Returning to Hogwarts was a surreal feeling for Harry. He never thought he would be going back to finish school after everything that had happened during what should have been his seventh year. The Great Battle left the whole castle in ruin. It took them two years to finish renovating the school to its former glory and staring up at the castle now, it looked as if nothing had happened.
They had started referring to it as their eighth year. There were only about twenty of them in total who returned, so they had “added” an extra dorm for all of them, all houses rooming together. Harry had a sneaking suspicion that it was just the Room of Requirement giving them what they need, but he only brought that up with Ron.
Harry hadn’t even planned to go back at first. There were too many terrible memories here that he didn’t wish to relive. But Hermione and Ron were both going back, as were Dean and Seamus and Luna and Neville.
Ginny left England to go and research new healing spells in Egypt. She had decided it was for the best if they went their separate ways. It hurt but Harry understood why she said it. He would have waited forever for her, or even followed her to Egypt, but there would be nothing there for him. Everything that mattered in his life was in England, and he had to make sure he could be around when Teddy started to get older He was just beginning to talk when Harry saw him last, right before he left for school. He had started to take after his mother very early on, often taking on a pig’s tail or a set of fluffy wolf ears. Harry hated leaving him, but it was only one more year.
“Harry, come on mate. The sorting will be starting in a moment” Ron waved his hand in front of Harry’s face breaking him out of his daydream.
“Sorry Ron, it’s just so odd being back here.”
“I know what you mean. It looks like nothing happened here at all” He wrapped his arm around Harry’s shoulder and gave him a tight squeeze. “We are in this together. Just like the old times”
Walking into the Great Hall, Harry noticed the walls were now lined in individual candles, each with a name floating in the flames. Most of them he recognized, some he didn’t and that made his sad. They had all died for him, because of him.
Ron leaded Harry over to a fifth table, much smaller than the others at the far end of the hall where the rest of their friends sat. Hermione smiled and kissed Ron’s cheek as he sat down next to her. Luna smiled and waved at Harry from down the way with Neville by her side. Dean and Seamus laughed in hushed tones across the table. Everyone looked much older than the nineteen years they should be. Harry let his eyes wander to each face at the table. One by one, taking in every inch of his friends as if afraid it would be the last time he saw them.
And then, at the opposite end of the table, hair as blonde as ever and a deep green scarf wrapped around his neck, sat Draco Malfoy. He wasn’t look towards Harry. He was looking up at the candles, taking in each name as Harry had done only minutes before. He looked sad.
Harry tapped Ron’s arm, “I didn’t know Malfoy was coming back” He gestured to the other end towards Draco and Ron followed his gaze.
“Me neither mate. Must be weirder for him to be back than it is for us. I heard Dad say that they arrested Mr. Malfoy but Draco and his mum got off. Said they were forced into it. Also heard that they sold Malfoy Manor and moved into a small apartment in the city.”
Harry watched Draco for a long time. He wanted to know what he was thinking. He wanted to talk to him about everything that happened, from the astronomy tower to the room of requirement and everything that happened since them.
“Good Evening students and welcome back to Hogwarts” Minerva McGonagall’s voice soared over the head of hundreds of chattering students and brought a complete silence to the room. “It has been a long two years and I’m sure many of you are excited to be back to our wonderful school. I would like to start with a few announcements before we get into the sorting of our new first and second years. As always, please refrain from wandering into the forest on the edge of the grounds...”
McGonagall finished her announcements and called in the new students for the sorting. As usual the Sorting Hat began the sorting with a song.
For many years, this valiant school
Taught students ways of magic
But darkness came and broke our home
An evening very tragic.
Now two years past and we return
To start anew in friendship
As our founders long since past
Intend for their kinship.
No matter house or blood or kind
We work here close together
To make the world of magic great
And a future for the better.
In Gryffindor the brave reside
The true of heart and courage
In friendship they will always try
To care for and encourage.
In Hufflepuff you find true friends
Their loyalty is known
With a Hufflepuff by one’s side
Their value will be shown
In Ravenclaw their minds are strong
Their wit is quite unmatched
Take your time to know them well
A true connection will be hatched
And finally, in Slytherin
Ambition takes control
These cunning snakes make truest friends
With them one will feel whole
Now place me up upon your head
And be sorted to your house
Just remember only together can
Real magic come about
Applause filled the room and the Sorting hat took a small bow before McGonagall began calling names. One by one, each student sat on the bench and had the hat placed upon their heads. For some, a house came almost instantly, for others, Harry could tell, they were having a long chat with the Sorting Hat just the way he had nine years previous.
After the sorting concluded and the chatter from the tables settled, McGonagall stepped back up to the podium. “Before we feast, I would like to take a moment to recognize all those we lost two years ago. These candles will remain in the hall as a memorial to their memories and everything they meant to us.”
The room was quite for a long time. Everyone sat very still only moving their heads to read the names on the candles.
After a moment, McGonagall gave a clap that rang through the hall and a huge feast appeared in front of the excited students.
Once the food was gone, the other students began to make their way out of the hall and to their respective common rooms. The eighth-years remained seated, quietly talking amongst themselves while the Great Hall emptied, and the house elves cleared the tables (Hermione tried to help. Ron had to remind her that it was their job and that they were being paid for their work). Shortly after the last plate was removed, McGonagall moved over to the table to lead them to their dorm.
The new dorm was placed up on the 7th floor, as Harry had suspected. The door was a small dark wood with a rounded top, very unassuming and easily passed over if you didn’t know it was there. It almost looked like a broom closet. Stepping though however, it opened into a large sitting room. A huge fire place roared from one corner of the room surrounded by some of the coziest chairs and couches Harry had ever seen. A split stairwell towards the far wall expanded up to what harry could only guess were the dorms.
“As usual, the boys and girls dorms are separated, however, seeing as there are so few of you, everyone will be provided their own bedroom connected to a shared living space and bathroom for the boys and girls respectively” McGonagall finished explaining the layout and then, saying her good-nights, retired to her room leaving them to explore on their own.
“This place is incredible” Seamus was almost bouncing off the walls. “Dean! Room neighbors?”
“Absolutely” The two of them raced up the stairs towards the dorm rooms. Slowly, everyone else followed them up to the rooms, picking their place and settling in. Harry left his things on the floor of his room and made his way back down stairs.
The common room was mostly empty, save for Hermione, already studying for classes at a table by the windows and Hannah Abbot, who had fallen asleep with a book in her lap. Harry sat down on the couch across from the fire and let his mind wander with his eyes focused on the flames. He simply sat there for quite some time. Hermione had woken Hannah and the two of them went off to bed close to an hour ago. The grandfather clock on the far wall chimed two bells before Harry looked up from the fireplace. Only then did he notice Draco sitting in a chair to his right.
Harry almost jumped out of his seat. “Malfoy? Wh-hat are you doing here? It’s almost morning.”
Draco smirked. “I was wondering how long you would be spacing out like that, Potter” but then his smile disappeared, and he turned his attention from Harry to the flames. “I don’t sleep a whole lot much anymore. Haven’t for quite some time now.”
Harry watched him for a moment. He looked like he was shaking, and he was constantly wringing his hands. “Me neither, actually. Not since, you know.” The two of them sat in silence for what felt like an eternity, neither looking up from the fire licking the edges of the brick alcove. “I don’t hate you, Draco. I just want you to know that. And I don’t blame you for anything. It’s not your fault.” Draco looked up then, a new look in his eyes. Something hopeful maybe. He didn’t say anything, just nodded slightly.
After a few more minutes, Draco got up and quietly made his way back to the dorms, leaving Harry alone in the empty common room, the sun slowly beginning to peak through the large stained-glass windows, lighting up the room with a brilliance of colors marking the new day and the start of Harry’s eighth and final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.