Chapter 1: After the end
The war had changed him. The war had changed…everything. His stature, his family, his friends, his relations. It had changed his perception of life. It was like he had awoken from a dream. The name Malfoy no longer came with a general feeling of smugness. He was in a reality that he had to face. He knew he had the means, the smarts. He just had to put forth the effort, an effort that had never really been necessary until now. He knew now that he could no longer depend on his name or his family.
To Draco’s astonishment the change had started with his father and spread throughout the family. His mother though always reluctant of the Dark Lord’s ideals took time to adjust to the new reality of their lives. In two years that Voldemort had lived in their house Lucius had lost his dignity and his dignity was everything to him. After Voldemort’s death the tolerance that the wizarding community had shown him and his family was the awakening that he needed. He was finally able to understand the error of his ways. He had pleaded guilty to all the charges and had insisted on doing community service as his penance. With all the Malfoy and the Lestrange estate being his, he had compensated all the wizarding families who had lost loved ones in the war and took the responsibility of piecing Hogwarts castle back together before the new academic year had started. His true punishment after the built up of Hogwarts was to never be allowed a wand again in his life and to be under house arrest for 5 years. He had taken responsibility of putting his wife and his barely adult son through dark times and Draco and Narcissa were given a clean chit by the Wizengamot. The changes in his father had deeply affected Draco. He had helped his father with the donations as well as Hogwarts reconstruction. He still felt unworthy to come back to his beloved school.
Against many odds however, Draco had returned for his seventh year at Hogwarts. He was working hard and taking his studies seriously. He tried to tell himself that he wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone, but he knew it was pointless. He was trying to prove something: himself…his worth…his capabilities of being more than just a Malfoy. He could work for what he wanted, and not just expect to receive it. He had one year; one year to become who he wanted to be.
Potter and his friends had returned, bringing with them the constant reminders of his failure, and of the war. He was determined to ignore the reminders. He was determined not to waste this year.
It was a month since the start of term and he was yet to decide what he was going to do when he left school. He didn’t know what profession he would like to pursue; he had never needed to think about that before. He was taking the N.E.W.T. subjects which were the ones needed to become and Auror, and some more. Did he want to be an Auror? Teenage Death Eater turned Auror; the irony was overwhelming. He was without a clue. He considered talking to a professor, surely one of them could help. But only one person came to mind; only one person could have understood his situation… and that man was dead.
Things were perfect. Life was…almost perfect. Deaths of loved ones still hung in the air and not a day passed when someone didn’t mention Fred, Lupin, Tonks, or Mad-Eye and many others. The conversations still halted, silences still ensued, and mournful tears still glazed eyes but the good outweighed the bad. Her life had finally reached a level of normality, and she and Ron were together. They had gotten together after the fall of Voldemort and had been inseparable since.
Harry was happy too. The boy who had lived, and lived again, was finally happy. He had matured through the years of the war, as would be expected, but it hadn’t killed him; it hadn’t killed his spirit. She was proud of Harry, and rejoiced in the new happiness he had found in his life after the war. He and Ginny were together again, and happy.
The foursome wanted nothing more than to spend the year as ordinary students, well, as ordinary as things can be at Hogwarts for them. They had refused any posts of responsibility though Harry still remained the captain of Gryffindor Quidditch team. McGonagall and his old Quidditch team had pestered him when he had refused initially, before he had finally given in. Quidditch had been his source of happiness in difficult times and he wanted to truly enjoy the sport without the responsibility of the whole wizarding world on his shoulders.
A month of their last year at Hogwarts had already passed. Although this term ought to have called for an immense amount of studying, the inhabitants found it hard to take their work seriously. Even Hermione, who made it a habit to study in excessive amounts, found herself lagging behind. She stressed over it in the confines of her dormitory, but found it quite easy to forget about her compulsiveness when she was spending time with Ron, Harry, and Ginny.
Still, true to herself, she spent a good amount of time hidden between the book shelves of the library. While her peers’ marks seemed to steadily lower, she pushed through her almost doubled work load, and managed to keep her grades in good standing.
The only other seventh year that seemed to be putting forth the same amount of effort came as a surprise to many. Malfoy, who had notably changed over the past year, occupied the library almost as often as Hermione these days.
It had taken her awhile to get used to Malfoy as a hard worker, let alone a library companion. Ron was never “in the mood to study” and with the extra Quidditch practices that he, Ginny and Harry had to attend, she couldn’t very well drag him along unwillingly, leaving Hermione alone on study nights. Well, almost alone.
On a particular Thursday evening in the library, with her collection of books spread out in front of her, Hermione found herself in the company of Malfoy yet again. He’s changed, she mused to herself. Indeed, since his return to Hogwarts, Malfoy had become a recluse. He kept to himself and only spoke in class to answer questions. He no longer sneered when he walked through the halls or provoked others into starting arguments. He had even turned a deaf ear to Ron’s comments about his family for nearly a month before Ron got bored and ceased.
Hermione marked her place in her book and cocked her head to the side, taking in Malfoy’s state. He was sitting by himself in the far corner of the library surrounded by piles of books. His eyes were fixed in deep concentration, something that intrigued her. Perhaps she felt that, in some standoffish way, he was competing with her. She had been slightly annoyed the other day when Malfoy’s potion had been almost perfect, and he had raised his hand to answer every question Professor Slughorn had asked.
She continued to stare at him, noticing that even in deep concentration he looked worn. His eyes were shadowed with dark circles, and he seemed thinner. Perhaps the heavy workload and Quidditch practices had finally taken their toll.
Why am I concerning myself with Malfoy? She shook her head of her thoughts and re-opened her book, finding her place among the pages.
Some half hour later, the silence was broken by the fervent whispering of her name.
Hermione looked up from her book to find the source of the voice. Nobody else was present in the library except for Malfoy, still in his corner, now staring at her intently. She held his stare until he spoke out again.
“Er, can I ask you a question about our Transfiguration assignment?”
She continued to stare at him in disbelief. Not only had he spoken to her, he had not sneered, jested, or used any form of condescending sarcasm. He continued to stare at her expectantly and raised his eyebrows when several moments of silence passed between them. She gathered herself and straightened in her chair.
“Uh…sure,” she said, trying to keep her tone casual.
Malfoy lifted himself from his chair and moved quickly over to the table Hermione occupied, situating himself in the seat next to her.
“Right. So I was wondering, what are the exact mechanics for Animagi transformations? I’ve searched the entire book but the only thing I can find is this one measly sentence.” He edged closer and pointed to the set of words. Hermione cleared her throat and leaned in to look at the page.
“See? Here. The molecular structure of the DNA shifts to accommodate magic, and shifts back to its original structure upon re-transformation into the human form” He smacked the page in frustration. “What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean? DNA and molacular structure? What are those?”
Hermione glanced sideways at Malfoy and suppressed the need to laugh. She took a deep breath and spoke in what she hoped was a patient and polite tone.
”Molecules and DNA are Muggle concepts, Malfoy. A molecule is the smallest physical unit of any element or compound. DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid and is the main component of chromosomes, which is the material that transfers genetic characteristics to life forms, such as us.“
Malfoy looked from Hermione to the book, trying to make sense of whatever jumble of words had just come out of her mouth. “Any way you can repeat that? In English this time, maybe?”
Hermione rolled her eyes tried to recall what little she had learned in her Muggle schooling and what her parents had taught her. Twenty minutes later, with a lot of complicated diagrams, with many confused looks and exasperated sighs passed between them, Malfoy seemed to have finally grasped the concept.
“Well, er… thanks for the help Granger.” The corners of his mouth lifted slightly in what might have been called a smile.
She nodded at him and smiled uneasily. “You’re welcome Malfoy.”
Taking this as a sign of conclusion, he gathered his things from the table and retreated back into his corner. He distractedly thought about the exchange that took place. ‘Granger’s not the insufferable twit I always thought she was. Well…not as insufferable. Probably would’ve taken me days to figure that out on my own. Ha! Look at me, worrying about not figuring something out. Add some bushy hair and I’m on my way to being a male version of Granger. Next thing you know we’ll be chatting everyday.’
Hermione found herself in the library again the following evening after classes. She had finished all of her required homework, which had taken her the majority of the evening, and was working on some extra side work to increase her marks. While flipping through the pages of Advanced Charms she glanced down at her watch and cursed to herself; dinner time was almost over. She closed her book and stuffed it into her bag along with several other books, quills, and spare pieces of parchment. Her bag looked like it might spring free of it’s stitching at any moment so she gathered the rest of her belongings into her arms and made her way out of the library.
As she descended the grand staircase in haste, she stumbled on the last step, landing heavily on her other foot on the entrance hall floor. The stuffed books and parchments in her arms cascaded down to the floor. Her heavy bag made a tearing sound but it did not give away completely. She had mastered the undetectable extension charms with her luggages, after all.
“Shoot,” she cursed out loud. She adjusted her bag, which had tilted sideways, securely on her shoulders and bent down to pick up the objects that were now scattered everywhere around her. Distracted by her annoyance, Hermione failed to notice a set of hands beside her, now fixing her things into neat piles. She turned to face her helper to offer them her gratitude.
Malfoy looked at Hermione, his mouth set somewhere between a smile and a smirk. He smelled of cologne and rain; dressed in his Quidditch robes and hair slightly ruffled, clearly having just left the field. A green and silver badge of captain shimmered on his chest.
Hermione stared at him, lips slightly parted, forgetting her words. Malfoy looked…handsome?
What a ridiculous thought, Hermione.
She mentally shook herself and accepted the neat pile offered to her by Malfoy. She secured her belongings into her arms and nodded curtly in Malfoy’s direction.
Malfoy bent down to pick up the broom he had set at his feet. “Not a problem,” he stated simply, and made his way past her and into the hall.
Hermione stood rooted in her spot and watched him take a seat at his table. Odd, she thought to herself as she spotted Ron, Harry, and Ginny and made her way towards them. She set her books down on the table next to Ron, pecked him on the cheek, and took a seat.
“Planning to read all the books in the library before leaving school, Hermione?” he asked teasingly.
She smacked him lightly on the arm but didn’t offer an answer. Instead she helped herself to some shepherd’s pie, settling into a light conversation with Ginny about the gloomy weather. Hermione half heartedly committed to the conversation, offering minimal effort into her responses, and searched across the hall for Malfoy who was seated next to Zabini two tables away.
He looked uninterested in his food, pushing it around on his plate, and seemed unaware that Zabini was trying to make conversation with him. His gaze was distant, showing something more than mere disinterest. Was it pain?Draco looked up, sensing that that someone was staring at him, and locked eyes with Hermione, whose face was set in a slight frown. He laughed to himself when she realised he had caught her staring and had taken up staring at her plate of food instead, a mild blush forming on her cheeks.
Hermione stared determinately at her plate. She could feel her cheeks flush and she dared a glance at her friends to see if they had noticed. Luckily, Ron was busy piling more food onto his plate and Harry was in an animated discussion with Ginny about the upcoming trip to Hogsmead.
She placed her fork on her plate and turned to face Ron.
“It would be nice to go to that cave again. The one we visited when Sirius was in hiding,” She offered to the group. She didn’t really care for the outdoors, or hiking for that matter, but she wanted to do more than visit Zonko’s and drink Butterbeer. Harry and Ginny mumbled something about other plans and Ron shrugged indifferently. She could feel Malfoy’s curious stare, though she didn’t dare to look in his direction again.
Draco dropped his gaze from Hermione and her friends and nodded in answer to whatever Zabini had just said to him. He would rather have been alone right now. He looked at his dinner; the appetite he worked up from practice was completely gone. He lifted himself from the table abruptly, grabbed his broom, and made his way out of the hall, dodging Zabini’s questions about his destination.
Deciding that the Slytherin dungeons were too predictable of a hideaway, Draco set out for a more suitable place of solitude.