Chapter 1. Come All Ye Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant
"God, this place is going to the dogs."
Draco Malfoy scoffed as he took in the 'Welcome witch, wizard, Muggleborn and elf! ' Muggle banners that were strung across the Hogwarts entrance arch. Draco hadn't been back at Hogwarts for even as long as it took for Trelawney to predict St. Potter's death, and yet he was already tired of the charade. Seventh year was such a bloody waste of time.
"Finish your studies," Mother had said.
Draco snorted and brushed a hand down the leg of his robes. The War had winnowed the opportunities for his generation of Slytherins into irrelevance and completely closed off all chances of promotion and glory. Their entire adult lives had been shuffled into sinecures that removed any possibility of impact on Wizarding policy for at least the length of Draco's life. Humility, or the appearance of it, did not change the fact that the probability of Draco getting an even remotely respectable job anywhere in England was undeniably faint. The Ministry would sooner appoint a cave troll minister than accept a Malfoy into its ranks.
However, short of death, no Malfoy in the entire History of Hogwarts had ever failed to complete the regimen, and Draco had no intention of breaking that particular tradition. It was a matter of pride, and after the unfortunate outcome of the War, pride was one of the only things the Malfoys had left.
Draco paused at the bottom of the stairs to Hogwart's entrance, taking a deep breath. Ascending the stairs slowly, he glared at the cane in his hand. Dratted thing.
The walk to the Slytherin dorm took a lot longer than it used to.
The Slytherin common room was exactly how Draco remembered it. He let out a breath of relief as he surveyed the empty room. If nothing else, at least this part of his life had remained unchanged.
He was the first of the Slytherin seventh years to arrive. Or the additional seventh years, so to speak. The seventh years from last year who had dropped out of school for one reason or the other. To take part in the war, or run from it.
Draco slumped down onto a couch, leaning his head back and staring up at the stone ceiling without really seeing it. He saw no point in going to the Great Hall, even though he knew that McGonagall wouldn't have called the additional seventh years here a day early if she didn't have something special planned. For the time being, Draco wanted rather to stay blissfully ignorant of the near future.
For at least another moment, Draco could pretend that his life was almost as it used to be.
Set in deep thought, Draco took in what might very well be his last time in the Slytherin dorm. Although he would never admit it out loud, Hogwarts had shaped him almost as much as his parents had, and his history was tied to the castle like it was to no other place. During his absence he had truly missed Hogwarts. It was within these walls that he had grown up into the person he was. Here he had made his friends and allies as well as life-time enemies, it was here that he had laid down firmly entrenched behavioural patterns as he intimidated other houses and established himself as a person to be reckoned with. Hogwarts was an undeniable part of him.
Not that it would be the same this year, Draco thought, setting his lips in thin line. With the defeat of the Dark Lord, bias against Slytherins was at a fever pitch. With Dumbledore gone and McGonagall given free reign, Merlin only knew what would happen. Even Severus was lost as a mitigating force.
Draco rubbed his leg absentmindedly as he looked around the common room. The familiar stone walls, draped with Slytherin green. The dim light from the torches. The cool draft that would have every new student coughing and snivelling for a week before they got used to it. He let a small smile pass across his face. Sometimes he thought this was the only place where he still had faith in magic.
He stilled abruptly before letting out a bitter snort. He knew how ridiculous he sounded. These days he had an unbecoming tendency to lapse into nostalgia and depression if he didn't make an effort to stay focused. It was rather pathetic, actually. And it was ironic to have those kind of thoughts about "faith in magic," because if there was one lesson the defeat of the Dark Lord had hammered home to wizards, it was that wizards endowed far too much trust in their precious spells.
But like many others, Draco had been stubbornly determined to stay in denial about that fact, even as his whole future veered off course with the defeat of the Dark Lord. It was only when he was at St. Mungo's and the mediwizards fought to save his leg, that Draco finally learned that valuable lesson.
"The trauma is in the nerve system. The tendons are far too complex to mend properly," the healer had told Draco and his mother. And the healer had tried to look very apologetic, but Draco could see the sense of righteousness behind the professional condolence. No one in their right mind felt sympathy for a crippled Death Eater.
As if reminded of its own existence, Draco's leg twitched painfully. He bit back a groan and clenched his teeth, hoping to ease the pain by moving to sit in another position.
The war had been over for three months. Wounds had long since been healed, and the dead had been buried. The scars that remained were quickly swept under the carpet. The blood and grime had all been washed away, only to pave way for a silence that was all the more terrifying. They called this hollow echo of life 'peace'.
Draco couldn't stand it. Restoration of the purer Wizarding world was all he had been brought up for. He had tasted the war approaching his entire life. Now that it was over, how was he supposed to know how to live in this new world where purebreds were powerless and Mudblood customs were eradicating everything he had been brought up to believe in? What was left of his life in a society where his family was powerless and spat upon?
Sometimes Draco felt as if his head was at war with itself. Everything he had learned at his father's knee and everything he had always defined himself to be, was contradicting all of Dumbledore's rules regarding proper behaviour he had to abide by while he was at Hogwarts. And now those rules had extended well beyond the borders of the school, making peace and supposed equality the foremost agenda of every half-decent witch and wizard in Britain.
In preparation for the trials for his mother, his father, and himself, Draco had endured countless mock trials run by his father and mother. Draco's rage at his family's position had been shaped into a carefully neutral expression. His temper has been dampened by his mother's pointed remarks regarding gratitude (to Potter of all people!), acceptance, patience, and decorum. The anxiety of awaiting his family's fate had in time laid a dull patina of acquiescence over Draco.
The ironic thing was that in the end, when the trials were finally over, peace had changed nothing. The truce had made absolutely no difference. It did not matter who had been judged not guilty, no one cared whose crimes have been "forgiven". It didn't matter what the court said, because the winning side would never forgive.
Now all that the 'evil' wizards, the traitors, the scum of society could do was try to make their own absolution. And try to avoid getting cut down by a purposefully aimed hex.
Draco's face settled into carefully a blank expression as his thoughts ran the well trod paths through his head.
Draco looked up to find Goyle standing in the doorway, staring at him warily. Somewhere in the back of his mind Draco felt the uncomfortable tinge of guilt make itself known. Goyle came to see him every day as he lay in hospital. And in his hopelessness, Draco knew himself to have treated his friend like crap.
Still, Draco was forced to admit to himself that guilt and remorse were not his strongest suit. All he could do now was to try and make up for some of his offences by offering Goyle a forced smile. "Hello, Greg. When did you arrive?"
Goyle seemed to ease up, if only a little. "Just now," he murmured, moving his rather impressive weight from one foot to the other, as if uncertain of what to do with himself. "I saw Professor McGonagall in the corridor. She said I should tell everyone in our common room to come to the Great Hall."
Bollocks. Now I'll have to limp all the way back there again! Draco thought to himself, certain that McGonagall was only doing it to piss him off. "Thanks Greg," he forced himself to utter, nodding approvingly at his friend. Bracing himself to get up from his seat, Draco fought back the groan that threatened to escape him as his leg protested to the movement. His irritation grew worse as he looked over and saw Goyle fidgeting in the doorway, casting poorly disguised disquieted glimpses at Draco's bad leg. Draco suddenly lost all sense of guilt or remorse, turning to sneered at Goyle.
"Stop that nervous chicken dance, it's making me crazy," he muttered as he limped past the other boy. Goyle stood absolutely still for a moment, holding his breath, before hurrying after Draco in fear of being left behind.
"Yes, Draco," Goyle answered, in a manner that disturbingly enough sounded almost happy. And just like that, Draco found that their lives had been set back in their usual pattern. Though his walking was a tad slower. Though they had lost Vince.
As Draco entered the Great Hall, most of the additional seventh years had already taken their seats at their respective tables. It was a sad gathering of five Ravenclaws, six Hufflepuffs, four Slytherins and eight Gryffindors. Including the Golden Trio.
Upon hearing the door open, everyone turned to look at the newcomers. Draco suddenly felt very glad to have Greg by his side, even if only as a meagre moral support. With his head raised high, Draco moved towards the Slytherin table as gracefully as he could. The ten yards seemed like a mile with the sound of his cane beating rhythmically against the stone floor and ringing like gun shots through the silence.
It was only when Draco finally reached the Slytherin table and took a seat that everyone started speaking again. Ignoring the hateful comments he overheard from the other houses, Draco turned to his own, masking his growing dread as well as he could. He feared this confrontation far more than he feared the spite of the other students. With a steady gaze, Draco looked into the curious faces of Blaise Zabini, Pansy Parkinson, Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis.
"Are we the only ones?" Draco asked in a steady voice, looking each of them in the eye in turn, silently daring them to take up the subject of his condition.
The reaction was immediate. Blaise hurriedly proceeded to inform Draco of the whereabouts of every student that had abstained from returning to the school, while Pansy and Daphne begun a duet of "We haven't heard of you all summer. We were so worried you weren't going to show up!"
Goyle took a seat on the opposite side of the table beside Pansy, and smiled encouragingly at Draco. For a second Draco despised him for the pity he dared to show, but the emotion soon died out as he allowed himself to feel relief for the first time that day; it seemed that he still had the authority there. It was highly reassuring, as Draco had feared he would become the outcast after all that had happened.
Naturally, they still had questions; Draco could see all of them, even Goyle, eyeing his cane curiously. Just like every other student in the Great Hall, they all desperately wanted to know what had happened.
Blaise was the first to gain the courage to ask. He leaned closer, his lips only inches from Draco's ear as he whispered: "Draco, what-?" He left the question hanging in the air, nodding pointedly towards Draco's right leg, as if anyone could have any doubt about what he was referring to. Everyone else fell silent immediately, sneaking cautious glances at Draco as they tried to pretend that they weren't holding their breath for his answer. Draco let a stern frown form on his lips, a cocked eyebrow the only answer to Blaise's cheeky smile. "Later."
Blaise was smart enough not to push it, and the others followed his example. They were Slytherins, they all knew better than to draw attention to the matter in front of the other students. Especially in front of students like Potter and his followers.
"Merlin, look at that prick! Still walking in here like he owns the place. After all he's done!"
Harry wasn't sure he could quite agree with Ron. Silently he watched Malfoy, studying his pale face as he limped towards the Slytherin table. Even though he looked unmoved -didn't Malfoy always?- his hand was frantically gripping the black cane, white fingers curling tightly around the wood. Harry stared at him, feeling almost sympathetic.
Of course Malfoy was an outright bastard. He had always been, there was no question about it. But if the war had shown Harry Potter anything about the Malfoys, it was that they would do anything for their family. And even if the manners in which they had chosen to protect their loved ones was far from admirable, Harry knew that devotion like that was rarely seen, especially in times of war.
His thoughts were abruptly cut off as Professor McGonagall entered the room. "Attention, everyone," she called out, her voice demanding attention almost as well as Dumbledore's had. "Welcome, additional seventh years, to your, hopefully , last year at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Because of the unusual circumstances last year, some of the seventh years' studies were compromised. Hence, we are now giving you the opportunity to finish your studies during an eighth year at Hogwarts."
McGonagall paused for a minute, looking around at the students. "Unfortunately, there is no room for you in your usual dorms. Additionally, as most of you have only a few specific subjects and courses to finish, we cannot have you all running around like wild geese and disrupting the other students' studies." The Headmistress looked grimly at those she knew would be amongst these 'wild geese', Lavender Brown, Neville, and the Greengrass-girl from Slytherin.
"So," she continued, coming to the point they were all waiting for. "the teachers have decided that the twenty-five of you will share quarters."
Gasps echoed through the Great Hall. Professor McGonagall sighed, irritated by the melodrama. "We have established a dormitory for the boys and one for the girls, joined by a common room. Those of you who do not need to re-take the whole year, will only attend those classes that you need. Any questions?"
For a minute the whole Hall was silent, then hands started rising. "Yes?" the Headmistress asked, nodding at Dean Thomas.
"Uhm, I was just wondering..." Dean mumbled, looking warily at the students at the other tables. "Will we still be in our houses, or will there be a different house for the eighth years?" Other students nodded and a few lowered their raised hands. It seemed many had been wondering about the same issue.
"You will remain in your original house, and you will still take your meals as normal at the house tables," was the answer, which was a relief for all. Harry watched as every student in the room released their held breath. Professor McGonagall continued. "Those of you who were Prefects during previous years no longer hold that position, but as you are all adults and here of your own free will, you are no longer beholden to rules and curfews."
"Wicked!" Ron exclaimed, gaining a murderous look from McGonagall. The Professor took a deep breath before she continued:
"That does not mean that you may behave any way you like. It is merely an expression of the fact that the school recognises you are all adults now, and as such we expect you to able to be responsible for yourselves and your own education. If you take advantage of that, we will not hesitate to expel you. Does anyone have any more questions?"
As the silence drew out, the Headmistress seemed very pleased to finish. "Good. Now, I will lead you to your dormitories. Follow me." She stalked through the Hall and out through the doors, followed by a herd of students slightly afraid of their fate.
"All of us, sharing a dorm? Is the woman insane?!" Ron hissed to Harry and Hermione as they exited the Great Hall. Harry was just about to express his agreement when he looked past his shoulder and saw Malfoy limping afterthem, trying to keep up with everyone else. Of course all the Slytherins stayed behind to support him, but it was easy to see who was the actual hold-up.
Harry looked over to see if McGonagall would notice Malfoy's problem, but she either didn't pay enough attention or she didn't care about the Slytherins. Like anyone would have blame her for that.
The Headmistress led the group to the fourth floor, past the Hospital wing and into a long corridor. At the end of that hallway there was a wall, adorned with a single portrait. Here McGonagall stopped.
"This is Angéle de la Barthe. She is guarding the eighth years' common room and dormitory," McGonagall said, gesturing towards the blond woman in the painting. The young woman blushed furiously under the gazes of the curious students, looking almost frightened. McGonagall was completely unmoved. "The current password is Contraho ." The students all watched the woman smile shyly, before the painting turned to reveal a passage.
As the students followed McGonagall through the doorway, a common room in purple shades was revealed to them. The room was circular with a fireplace by one wall, and two sets of stairs by the other. Harry was more than pleased to find that it looked much like the Gryffindor common room he had grown so familiar with. It made him feel a little less anxious about the whole ordeal.
"This is your common room. The stairs to the right lead to the boys' dormitory, and the stairs to the left lead to the girls'," the Headmistress informed them, gesturing demonstratively as she spoke. As she noticed the mixed curiosity and unease around her, she raised an eyebrow and crossed the room back towards the door. "You may now make yourselves at home in your new quarters. Dinner and tomorrow's breakfast will be served in the Great Hall, and tomorrow evening the Welcoming Feast will take place as usual." McGonagall made a move to exit through the portrait, but cast a last dissuading glance at the students. "I expect you all to be on your best behaviour and control your tempers; I do not wish to hear of any fights."
The Headmistress exited, and a deafening silence filled the room. Everyone looked at their friends for support, quietly wondering how the hell this had happened. How could the teachers ever have conceived of the idea of mixing the houses?
Harry looked over at Ron, whose face had already turned red. Harry thought he could almost imagine the smoke emerging from his ears.
Harry sighed. This would not end well.
Hermione scoffed, strongly reminding Harry of McGonagall as she expressed her irritation at all the fuss. As the silence drew out for another minute, Hermione muttered an, "Oh, honestly!" and turned towards Hannah Abbott. "Come on, Hannah. Let's go pick out our beds."
Little Hannah smiled softly and followed Hermione up the stairs, leaving the other girls to look at each other in bewilderment before they too decided to follow. Harry's anxiety only grew as he watched Hermione and the other girls leave. The built up tension and testosterone in the room did not bode well for the keeping of the peace.
"Well, we might as well go make sure they've brought our luggage here as usual."
Harry heard a cold voice speak from behind him, and he didn't have to turn around to recognise its owner. Ron's eyes flickered hatefully towards the Slytherins, who had all gathered together in a group in front of the fire place. The Slytherin girls, Pansy Parkinson, Greengrass, and a thin blond girl Harry didn't know were the only ones who didn't follow the other girls upstairs. But now, at Malfoy's indirect command, they nodded curtly at the boys and took their leave. Harry watched Malfoy as he proceeded towards the stairs, both Zabini and Goyle beside him. Malfoy kept his eyes solemnly focused on something in the distance, determined not to make eye contact with anyone as he limped past the other students. His cane thumped clumsily against the stone floor, and Harry watched him with a mixture of empathy and persistent loathing, wondering if he felt the pressure of everyone's eyes on him. It was only when he saw Malfoy's back disappear at the top of the stairs that Harry looked around to find the other guys staring at him.
"What?" Harry asked, for some reason self-conscious.
Justin Finch-Fletchley cleared his throat. "What should we do?" he asked, voicing the question Harry saw clearly on everyone's faces.
Harry furrowed his brow. "About what?"
Zacharias Smith let out an annoyed huff. "About the Slytherins, of course!"
"We can't share a dorm with them for a whole year!" the dark haired Michael Corner proceeded, and the others hurried to nod in agreement.
"What do you expect me to do about it?" Harry scoffed, eyeing the others uncertainly. They seemed to somewhat come to their senses, sulking and looking down at the floor. Ron couldn't seem to let it go as easily as the others.
"But Harry," he began, staring at Harry desperately. "We can't sleep in the same room as them. They're Death Eaters!" He shouted and gesticulated wildly, staring at Harry with big blue eyes and face almost as red as his hair. Harry fought back a sigh.
" I can't do anything about it. Besides, they haven't even done anything. Shouldn't we try and get along before we attack them?"
"Get along?!" Ron exclaimed, his eyes starting to resemble saucers. "They're Slytherins!"
Harry was just about to retort when a harsh drawl was heard from behind him.
"Sharing a dorm has nothing to do with anything, Weasley. If we wanted to kill you, it wouldn't matter if we were on the other side of the Earth." Zabini had appeared in the stairway, sneering. Harry could almost feel the suppressed rage overflowing in the room. No matter how many times the word peace had been repeated in the last months, no matter how many times they had spoken of truce, the meaning of it still hadn't reached the people. The other houses relationship with the Slytherins was, if possible, worse than ever.
"What are you doing here, Zabini?" Ron growled, marching over to the stairs. "Why did you even bother to come back? It's not like you'll get a job even if you finish school. No one will hire a Death Eater!"
The noise was now enough to lure the girls down from their dormitory. Parkinson and Greengrass were the first to appear, followed swiftly by Hermione and the small blond Slytherin whose name Harry still wasn't able to recall. Neither Ron nor Zabini seemed to take notice.
"We all know why you came back, right, Weasley?" Zabini spat. "You have to get a job, don't you, so that perhaps your family won't starve to death next winter?" He leered. "Shouldn't your friendship with Potter be worth enough to cash in on so that you might expand your house into more than one room? Or perhaps-"
Malfoy's cold voice cut through the room. Zabini jumped where he stood, turning around to find Malfoy standing behind him at the top of the stairs. Goyle looked over Malfoy's shoulder, as if uncertain if he should get involved or not.
Slowly Malfoy descended the steps, one at the time, until he reached the common room floor. "You shouldn't set such a bad example, Blaise," Malfoy stated calmly, limping through the crowd of spectators. He reached an armchair in front of the fire place and sat down, stretching out his bad leg in front of him. His eyes fixed sombrely on Zabini. "With such bad habits, one could think you to be less than a pureblood."
Zabini refrained from answering, but he gritted his teeth so loudly Harry could hear it. Silently Zabini approached Malfoy and took a seat in another chair. "I apologize."
At the same time Parkinson, Greengrass and the blond girl walked over, also taking their seats. Harry watched in awe as the four of them sat there silently, awaiting a call, any kind of command from Malfoy. But Malfoy ignored them completely, his eyes searching through the group of students before they finally focused on Harry. The weight of Malfoy's gaze was like lead, and Harry felt an electric pulse travel through his body as those gunmetal eyes pierced him.
"Potter," Malfoy stated his name, for the first time, Harry thought, without malice in his voice. "Why are you still standing here?" Malfoy said, gesturing to the four Slytherins beside him and to Goyle, still standing on the stairs. "Without us in the dormitory, shouldn't you and your cohorts now feel comfortable enough to get settled yourselves?"
The words in themselves were not particularly kind, but they were uttered with so little enmity that Harry was momentarily stunned. It was only after a long moment that he realised that he was still staring at Malfoy, and managed to utter a clumsy "Y-yes. Thanks."
Malfoy nodded at him, raising what Harry interpreted as an approving eyebrow, and Harry hurried to turn on his heels and exit the room. The other guys followed him upstairs, Zacharias Smith and his friend Anthony not looking all too pleased about being called Harry Potter's 'cohorts'. Ron didn't look too happy either.
"Can you believe that?" he asked while Harry eyed the dormitory, trying to determine which beds the Slytherins had chosen as their own.
"Believe what?" Harry responded absentmindedly. The room was dark, but the bright rays of the moon shone in through the windows and let in a surprising amount of light.
The drapes on the four poster beds were purple, but Harry noticed that three beds in the furthest corner had green ones. Laughing silently at Slytherin pride, Harry wondered if he could charm his drapes red.
"Stupid serpent git...!" Harry heard Ron mutter as he chose one of the beds furthest from the Slytherins'. Harry grabbed his trunk from the heap where the house-elves had left their luggage, and dragged it towards the bed closest to the door. Someone swore loudly, and Harry realised it was Justin, who has gotten the bed closest to the Slytherins'.
Harry sighed loudly. This was going to be a long year.