The war was fought and lost in the summer that followed my sixth year at Hogwarts. The date surprised us all, as the Dark Lord had seemed to be timing his assaults to coincide with the end of each school year. Dumbledore, great fool that he was, had even been heard telling parents that they had nothing to fear until after we’d sat our N.E.W.T.s. In the end, though, the moment had been decided by the Dark Lord and not by the onset of Harry Potter’s final exams.
My father was in the centre of the fighting when it all ended. He found the occasion quite a disappointment, having predicted a vicious exchange of curses leading to the eventual fulfilment or destruction of the infamous prophesy. Instead, the climax had been a muttered unforgivable from Potter and the complete obliteration of the Dark Lord. It was all a lot easier than anyone had expected—that is, at least it was for those who hadn't been twisted by curses or deprived of a loved one by the fighting.
After the war, most witches and wizards resumed their normal lives. There were few reprisals for those who had fought at the Dark Lord’s side. In war, no one is without guilt. Many people died in the weeks prior to and during the showdown, and there were bloodied hands on both sides of the conflict. It is easier, after all, to ignore the faults of others than it is to admit faults of one’s own.
Potter remained a hero or a villain, depending on one’s perspective. The war proved profitable for my father, who was uninclined to mourn the loss of a leader whose ideas he shared but whose dominance he despised. We wore black robes to the funerals of Ernest Parkinson and Darius Nott, just as our counterparts said goodbye to their own family and friends. The war did little to change anyone or anything. It happened and then it was gone. It is human nature that shapes a war—and never the other way around.
Sometimes, a beginning is hard to identify, revealed only by the passage of time and an unfurling of events. There are glowing moments that catch you and bind you with possibilities and there are throat-swelling revelations that leave you exhausted and confused and doubting your very existence. In the end, though, there is only one true beginning.
For me, it all started with a smile.
The Great Hall was decorated with candles and bunting. The echoes of countless conversations rebounded from the walls as I sat, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, and waited for the room to fill. It felt strange to think that I was about to begin my final year at Hogwarts. So much of my life had revolved around school for the past six years that it seemed unthinkable that my time there might come to an end.
At the front of the hall, the usual professors sat in their places at the head table. McGonagall and Sprout were deep in conversation; Snape glowered out at his assembled students, seeming unchanged by his role in the war. As I watched, he plucked stiffly at one sleeve of his robes, no doubt a habit formed over years of trying to hide the Mark. I wondered if his skin, like my father’s, seemed to draw into shadows under the brightest light. Snape had been lauded a hero in the end; perhaps that made a difference. Father’s spoils of war lay heaped in Gringotts vaults and shone in dazzling loops around my mother’s neck.
Dumbledore, appearing weakened by the events of the summer, looked almost fragile as his gaze circled the room. His eyes were still bright, but there was a slight tremble to his hand as he reached for his wine goblet. For the first time, it struck me that one day he would not be there to greet Hogwarts students at the beginning of the school year. The thought didn’t please me as much as I might have liked. Old fool that he was, Dumbledore was nonetheless so deeply tied to my own history that it was difficult to think of him as anything less than immortal. The Dark Lord had been defeated; it seemed that time, as an enemy, might be more difficult to subdue.
To my right, Goyle toyed with his own glass, rubbing a finger softly against the rim in order to create a whisper of discordant sound. “I feel older,” he stated glumly, glancing at me as though seeking validation.
“You are.” The wood of the table was tattooed with faded scratches, lined reflections of students who had long since passed through Hogwarts’s doors for the final time. Carefully, I carved a shaky furrow in the timber with a fingernail, criss-crossing two narrow indentations. “We all are.”
Rubbing at my temples, I wished for the night to be over. Earlier in the day, I could think of nothing but the excitement of being at Hogwarts again but now, faced with empty chairs at the Slytherin table and a cluster of first years undoubtedly waiting at the top of the staircase, excitement had faded into dull resignation. Next year, mine would be one of the chairs left empty. The thought was stifling.
“I wonder where the girls are,” Crabbe wondered idly. Turning to face me, he regarded me with raised eyebrows. “Did Pansy say anything to you about being late?”
“No.” Uncomfortable, I shifted awkwardly in my seat. “I haven’t seen her yet.”
Goyle nudged me suggestively, the point of his elbow sharp between my ribs. “Making her wait, are you?” he teased.
“Something like that.”
“How is she?” Crabbe shot Goyle a disbelieving look. “I haven’t seen her since... well, you know.”
He nodded eagerly, obviously relieved that he had not been forced to say the word.
“She’s okay.” Even I could hear the note of pride within my voice. “You know what Pansy’s like. Nothing can break her.”
“I’m glad it wasn’t my dad.”
I turned to give Goyle an amused look. “Not likely, Goyle. From what I’ve heard, your father made sure to keep himself far from any real danger.”
“My dad’s a war hero!” he protested. “Mum told me so.”
“Did she really?” I asked mildly, feeling no need to argue my point.
Twisting in my chair, I turned to watch the doorway, looking out for familiar faces. A couple of fifth year Slytherin girls walked into the hall, deeply immersed in conversation. Their cloaks floated stiffly about their bodies in a crass image of newness and I noted that this year’s fashion was a couple of inches longer than the last. Behind the girls, two Hufflepuff boys I couldn’t place snickered at an unheard joke. Their laughter ended abruptly as they walked past Filch, who watched them suspiciously as they quickly made their way to their table, one boy casting a nervous glance back over his shoulder as he sat.
Smirking, I returned my attention to the rear of the room, my expression freezing as Harry Potter stepped through the doorway, followed as always by a cluster of adoring Gryffindors. “Don’t look now,” I muttered, my voice curling thickly from my throat, “but another war hero has just entered the room.”
“Who?” Crabbe asked stupidly, spinning awkwardly in his seat. “Oh,” he said, following the direction of my gaze. “Him.”
I glared malignantly at Potter for a few moments before it became obvious that he wasn’t going to look in my direction. “I suppose it was too much to hope that he might have decided to finish his schooling elsewhere,” I remarked lightly, turning back to the table and smiling at Goyle with a perfectly-hewn look of indifference. “I should have known that he’d return to bask in the dubious glory of his victory. Just look at all those Gryffindorks, following him about as if he were a god.”
“I think he got even uglier over the holidays,” Crabbe sniggered, still twisted around in his chair so that he could follow Potter’s progress across the room. “He certainly didn’t grow any taller.”
“Height isn’t everything,” Goyle said wisely, stifling a laugh with the sort of smug condescension that was only possible for someone who had recently topped six foot three.
“Being an irritating do-gooder, however…” I smirked and traced one of the scratches in the table top with my fingertip. “I suppose he’ll be more unbearable than usual this year. It’s not as though he did anything particularly spectacular; a first year could use the killing curse if they were so inclined.”
“Yeah.” Crabbe nodded furiously. “My dad’s used it heaps of times. Mum too.”
I raised one hand and covered his mouth. “Not here, Crabbe. Some people have selective memories.”
On the other side of the room, Potter laughed, the sound carrying to my ears above the general clamour of conversation. My mouth twisted into a scowl as I pressed a little harder against the furrow I was following, the increased pressure making my finger’s movement abrupt and jagged.
Entangled within my hatred for Potter, it took a moment for Goyle’s words to register inside my mind. When they did, my heartbeat quickened, my stomach knotting as I raised my gaze.
“Hi.” Pansy smiled briefly at the other Slytherins before turning to face me, her smile momentarily faltering before becoming brighter and garishly artificial. “Hello, Draco.”
In the enchanted light of the Great Hall, she was beautiful. The events of the summer had hidden her from the sun’s rays, and her skin was winter pale beneath the dark frame of her hair. Slight shadows beneath her eyes hinted at her loss, but they didn’t detract from the soft curve of her lashes as her gaze flitted erratically across my face. Her lips were tight around her smile, and I remembered how soft they had felt when I had kissed her and the way that her breath had tickled the side of my neck when she had wrapped her arms tightly around my waist.
“Pansy.” I nodded, the word clumsy and warm.
Goyle looked from me to her, frowning as he turned back to face me. “Um...” he began, before trailing off, obviously unsure as to whether his question would be welcomed.
Pansy nodded slightly when I met her eyes, sliding into the chair across from my own. Her smile faded as she reached out to claim her water glass, reappearing only momentarily when Crabbe acted the gentleman in filling it from a nearby pitcher. I watched her as she drank, her eyes closing briefly as she focused on the sensation of the cool liquid filling her throat. She hadn’t changed at all since the beginning of summer... and yet she was barely recognisable at the same time.
I filled my own glass before speaking, a futile gesture of solidarity that seemed only the more ridiculous before the weight of my revelation. “Pansy and I broke up.”
Goyle and Crabbe’s “what?” was echoed by that of Millicent Bulstrode, who had slid into the seat beside Pansy whilst I was occupied with filling my glass. Crabbe fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair, while Goyle ran a hand through his hair, obviously as surprised as he was confused.
“But... why?” he asked finally, his tone soft, as though uncertain whether he should be speaking at all. “Why now? After everything that’s happened...”
“My father has nothing to—” Pansy paused, her eyelids flitting closed for the duration of a heartbeat as she collected herself. “It wasn’t going anywhere.” She began again, her voice even and her syllables carefully defined. I could feel her words in my bones, insidious and creeping. “It was a mutual decision in the end.”
I allowed her the lie. It would have been callous to deny her something as simple as her dignity when I still loved her as dearly as I always had, even though it was in the wrong way. We had been friends since childhood, pushed together by parents and circumstances, and lovers since the end of fifth year. We shared an understanding that stretched across both our lifetimes and, in a way, her words weren’t so very far from the truth. There had been no hysterical scenes or declarations of hatred, just a dull resignation that hung between us in thickly congealed strands. When I told her, the sun had formed shards of crimson within her hair and the summer wind tossed and fragmented the splinters of light. The air had smelled of history and freshly cut grass and I had counted the freckles upon her nose because I couldn’t meet her gaze.
She had taken it well. The funeral had been two weeks previous, the prospect of a new school year looming in the fortnight ahead. We had kissed a conclusion, her hands tightly grasping mine, squeezing until my fingers felt bruised and numb. When she unfolded herself from my embrace, she stood as tall as she’d always done, her eyes bright and glittering as she smiled. My chest burnt with the moment. She nodded once, resolute, then allowed me to leave.
Back at Hogwarts and sitting only feet away from me, she retained the same air of righteous civility that I remembered from the summer. Her determination to be the better person shone from the rigid set of her shoulders and the even accusation of her gaze. I wished that I could hate her, but I found myself overflowing with admiration instead.
“I thought you’d end up married,” Millicent remarked glumly. “You were the perfect couple.”
Pansy and I exchanged a glance.
“We were,” I agreed, inwardly cringing as Potter’s laugh rose above the conversation once again, annoyed that he could even interfere with my life from a distance.
“So what happened, then?” Millicent prompted, always fascinated by others’ sadness or misfortune.
“I don’t know,” Pansy replied, and the way that her mouth tightened around the words caused my heart to beat a little faster inside my chest. “I don’t know,” she repeated, her voice almost a whisper and, when she looked at me, the hurt condemnation in her eyes was more powerful than any voiced disapproval could ever be.
My stomach churned with rare guilt. “Perfect isn’t everything,” I muttered, turning to face the front of the room as Dumbledore lightly tapped the side of his goblet in a request for silence.
“Nothing lasts,” Pansy added quietly. “Not even things that have always been there.”
I reached across the table to take her hand. She endured the touch for a moment, before twisting her fingers from my grasp. Millicent eyed me, amused. I scowled at her out of habit and took up my glass as a replacement for Pansy’s hand. My head was throbbing. I felt suddenly, irrevocably old.
“Watch where you’re going,” I snapped as a solid weight slammed into my side, paying no attention to the identity of my assailant.
“You can talk.”
Thrown, I turned towards the direction of the voice, my suspicions confirmed as I found myself looking into the annoyed eyes of Harry Potter.
“You were miles away,” he continued accusingly. “If I hadn’t—accidentally—knocked into you, you would probably have ended up falling down the stairs. You should thank me for saving your life.”
“I can’t see that happening any time soon,” I sneered. “If I were you, I shouldn’t hold my breath.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Instead of turning to follow his friends down the hallway as I had expected him to, he remained in front of me, his gaze steady as the corners of his mouth rose in a mischievous smile. “So… how was your summer?”
“Small talk with Harry Potter?” Laughing, I chose to make light of what was presumably a dig about the outcome of the war. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“You know me.” He leaned in a little, as though ready to confess some shameful secret, and lowered his voice so that his words were only a fraction louder than a whisper. “I love a lost cause.”
“That would explain your choice in friends.” I smiled smugly, pleased with my response.
“Touché.“ Potter raised an eyebrow. “You know, you’re cute when you’re feeling superior.”
I glared at him, unmoved by his attempt to disorient me. “I always feel superior,” I snapped, wondering why I had to be so unfortunate as to encounter my enemy on my very first evening back at school.
“Make of that what you will.” His eyes glinted with amusement beneath his glasses, the light creases at their outer edges mirroring the gentle indentations at the corners of his mouth. I couldn’t help but notice that his lips were fuller than I would have imagined, the flickering torchlight of the hall forming transient shadows in the hollows of his face.
Crabbe had been wrong. Potter had changed over the summer, but the differences would not have been considered unfavourable to more objective eyes. His features had lost some of the childish roundness that they had held the year before, and I could see the beginnings of his adult face. He seemed no taller than the last time I had stood beside him, but his shoulders were undeniably broader and there was a mild strength to his form that was markedly different to his previous angularity. It was as though he, too, was taking his first steps on a new path now that his nemesis was dead. I could only hope that his destination would not be the same as my own.
“Did you miss me over the summer?” he teased, for some reason prolonging the encounter beyond its natural, irritating life span.
“I didn’t so much as think of you,” I lied.
For a moment, he had the audacity to look a little hurt, but then his mouth twisted back into a smile. “Nice try,” he said, “but even you would’ve found it difficult to completely ignore the war. You seem different tonight,” he went on, in a tone that was almost casual, starkly incongruous with the situation and with the strained look that shone from his eyes. “You look the same, but there’s something about you that’s changed.”
“I still hate you, if that’s what you’re asking,” I snapped, tired of his ceaseless prodding.
“No.” He seemed unaffected by the violence in my tone. “That’s not what I meant.” He leaned towards me and, for a moment, it seemed almost as though he was about to kiss me, his eyes appearing to caress my features for a moment before they rose to brazenly meet my own. It was hard to know what was more disconcerting—the thought of his lips against mine or the steady inquisition of his gaze. "I saw you, you know. On the battlefield. I saw—"
"You didn't see anything," I interjected before he could go on. "I wasn't there."
"I saw you," he insisted.
"You must've been mistaken."
He watched me through narrowed eyes for several seconds before speaking again. "I guess I'd want to forget it too," he said. "It must have been—"
I jumped in again, not wanting to hear the odd note of sympathy in his voice. "I wasn't there."
If I said it enough, it would be as good as true.
"Fine," he said, his expression unreadable. "You weren't there. The war still must've been hard on you. I know a lot of Slytherins lost family members.”
“Not at all,” I replied sullenly, refusing to allow him the victory of my looking away. “We did rather nicely out of it.”
“I hope you don’t put it like that when you’re talking to your girlfriend,” Potter said, the bitter set of his mouth forming an uneasy contrast to the casual tone of his words. “Her father was one of the casualties, I heard.”
“Of course not,” I said, annoyed, “but she’s not my girlfriend. Pansy and I broke up.” I kept my tone even, unwilling to allow him any glimpse of emotion. My fingers twisted in the fabric of my cloak.
“Do you think you’ll get back together?” He asked the question as though he had every right to know the answer, his impudence almost comforting in its familiarity.
Life might be moving forward, I realised, but Harry Potter would remain a constant, at least for as long as I remained at Hogwarts. The war was over, Pansy and I were no longer together and everyone looked aged and different, but there was nothing ephemeral in my hatred for Potter. It had defined me for as long as I could remember, shaping my words and my actions and influencing every facet of my existence. It was as though we had been created in order to be the worst of enemies, measuring our gains and successes through each bitter interaction.
The knowledge was comforting and exhilarating at the same time.
“I doubt it,” I said casually, unwilling to give any indication that the break-up was anything but near-forgotten history to me.
My breath caught in my throat as something almost recognisable flashed within Potter’s eyes. Frowning, I swallowed thickly and attempted to mould my face into a scowl. For the first time in six years, my resolve trembled and I couldn’t have spoken if I tried. I thought of the cold horror on Pansy’s face when I had told her that it was over and of the nights I had spent questioning my decision, and I wished that I could take it all back, if only to halt the ceaseless movement of time.
When I did speak, it was a rushed confession, my words thick with admissions he knew nothing about. “I wasn’t in love with her.”
As I turned to leave, Potter smiled.