Title: Before Peace - Prologue
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Warnings: Past character death.
Length: 115K words
Story Summary: Before peace, there must be war. The wizarding world's war is over, but Draco Malfoy's own war -- against memory and against himself -- is yet to be fought.
Chapter Summary: Wherein Draco takes a trip to Hogwarts and the department of backstory, Harry sleeps through almost everything, Pansy is a Mean Girl, and the Sorting Ceremony is rudely interrupted.
Beta: None. Read at your own risk.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
If there was one thing Draco Malfoy had learned during his eighteen years, it was that the end always justified the means. Especially if the end was victory. He had also learned that "blood traitor" was an empty phrase that did not change who he was. Especially when blood traitors were the victors.
Another phrase -- blood before peace, a favourite of dear old Aunt Bella's, may she rot in pieces -- had become especially meaningless when he'd found out about the late great Dark Lord's true heritage. Draco had nearly killed three people in the name of a half-blood. He might as well have been killing for Potter, really. When it had become evident -- to anyone not blinded by the Dark Lord's posturing -- that sooner or later Potter was going to win, Draco had made a surprisingly easy choice, made even easier by his mother's blessing.
He regretted nothing.
The smooth glide of the Hogwarts Express was soothing; Draco had never noticed that before. It was still hard to believe that the war was over, that he was going back for his NEWTs. Being in a compartment all by himself was strange; he'd never done that before, either. Earlier, on the platform, the other Slytherins in his year had looked at him as though he had leprosy. Draco could take a hint, so he had found a compartment and locked the door.
He couldn't blame them really -- not after he had become a blood traitor. To his housemates, the phrase still held meaning, but Draco would never apologise. He only had one more year left at Hogwarts. He could weather this, and then the world would be his for the taking. Draco Malfoy. Order of Merlin, Second Class at barely nineteen years of age. He didn't need his so-called friends, especially when most still hadn't learned to think for themselves. He had his family and his inheritance. Friends could be bought.
Some of them would drift back to him in less than a week, of course. His Order of Merlin hadn't been made public yet, after all. Draco was very much looking forward to watching Zabini, and Pansy -- especially Pansy -- try and butter him up once they realised he was far better placed socially than all of them combined. Draco smiled to himself in anticipation of the announcement, which would come later that night, at the Welcoming Feast.
A strong, vindictive urge seized him -- to go and listen in on their conversation. They would certainly slag him off, and he would enjoy making them eat their words later.
He unlocked the compartment door and walked down the corridor, which was empty; the snack trolley wouldn't come round for a while yet. Draco glanced at the swatches of colour rushing past the train. They were making good speed, or perhaps he had been too lost in thought to keep track of the time.
Draco's knee hit something warm and solid; he tripped and grabbed onto a window latch to keep himself from falling. He looked down at the floor but saw nothing, which could only have meant:
"Malfoy." Potter's disembodied voice floated towards him from the floor.
"I was trying to walk through here."
"I'm trying to sit here."
"Why can't you sit in your compartment like every other normal person?"
The Invisibility Cloak was coming off now and Potter was rising swiftly to face Draco.
"Because every other normal person did not lose their two best friends, and every other normal person is not reminded of those friends by everything inside those fucking compartments."
Draco flinched involuntarily. Granger and Weasley's deaths had been grisly and so very senseless; their only purpose had been to enrage Potter and force him to make mistakes. Which he had, predictably. It had almost cost them the war. Had it not been for Snape's intervention... but it was best not to think about that.
"You could join me in mine," he said. "I don't think that will remind you of anything."
Potter looked -- well, surprised, mostly. "I didn't think you cared."
"I don't, really," said Draco lightly. "But if it gets you off the floor and out of my way, I'm willing to suffer your company for the rest of the trip."
"You're impossible," said Potter, almost grinning.
Draco was forcibly reminded of that one desperate, drunken night at Grimmauld Place, only three months ago. God, he had thought he'd been successful in blocking that from his mind. He and Potter, the things they had done...
"Impossible," echoed Draco, looking away. "I've got to do something before I go back. Do you think you can manage not to cause any life-threatening falls whilst I'm gone?"
Potter squinted. "Was it really that bad?"
"What?" asked Draco, panicking somewhat. Perhaps Potter was using Legilimency and seeing the images that kept intruding on Draco's consciousness. They weren't bad images, but--
"Your near-death experience just now."
"Oh. That. Yes, it was terrible. I saw my life flash before my eyes."
"I think that was just the carpet." Potter was grinning now. It was off-putting; Draco didn't think he'd ever seen Harry Potter smile at him before.
"Well, whatever it was," Draco said. "It was definitely terrifying." He was trying vainly to think of a good pun involving bad interior decorating, but the look of mischief in Potter's eyes was too distracting.
"Why are we talking about this like it matters?" Potter said abruptly, his smile fading. "I can't believe I'm standing here, grinning like a fucking idiot, when Ron and Hermione--" He broke off, turned on his heel, and walked away.
Draco stared after him. He supposed "friends can be bought" as a parting remark would not make Potter come back, except maybe to hex Draco's bits onto his face. It was probably better that he had gone, anyway. In fact, it was probably best if Draco stayed as far away from Potter as possible. He could live with being a blood traitor, but he couldn't -- and wouldn't -- allow himself to become a twisted freak.
Draco forced himself to think of Pansy's soft, round breasts, her warm breath in his ear, and the way his mind had clouded with unfamiliar, frightening feelings whenever they'd been together. He remembered the reason he'd left his compartment. Oh, Pansy's breasts and other soft places would be at Draco's disposal soon enough. And if they wouldn't be, well, there was always Daphne Greengrass or that brunette from Ravenclaw, Lisa something-or-other.
Draco made his way towards the Slytherins' usual compartment. He heard Pansy's shrill voice from several feet away.
"...believe she almost made me go to Beauxbatons. I rather enjoy France, but I don't care for the French or their horrid language."
"Malfoy's French, isn't he? You liked him well enough." That was Nott.
"Please," said Pansy with a derisive laugh. "His great-grandfather just made the French name up when he'd won at the races and wanted to leave his squalid past behind."
Draco seethed. He should never have told her that.
"He's new money? No wonder he turned traitor." There was no mistaking Zabini's deep, silky voice.
"Their sort care nothing for traditions or principles," Pansy said. Draco could almost see her nod, dark curls bobbing, as she spoke. "And besides, I never liked him that much, especially when I found out how small his dick is."
There were several guffaws, and Draco felt his face burning. "I'll make you repeat that, you bitch, when you're on your knees choking on it," he muttered, and promptly shut his mouth. Fucking ridiculous habit of thinking out loud.
"Did you say something, Daphne?" Pansy's tone was patronising. Draco's insides froze.
"Huh? No, I was just doing the crossword puzzle."
"Must've been someone outside," said Nott. "I think I heard one of the fourth-years say that Potter was skulking about the corridors, talking to himself." Draco held his breath.
"He's always been a bit mad, hasn't he?" drawled Zabini.
"A bit? He's completely mental," said Pansy. "I'm glad I'll never have to see him again after this year. He frightens me."
"I reckon you'll see a lot of him in the press," said Daphne. There was a faint rustle of parchment, then a snort from someone Draco couldn't identify.
"They'll get tired of him in six months, I expect," said Pansy dismissively. "Honestly, he's not even fit. Most Charming Smile Award? That's not saying much, considering old Lockhart."
You might think him fit if you saw him naked. And he does have a rather charming smile, thought Draco, and wanted to die on the spot. He'd heard enough. They would probably keep talking about Potter, now. Draco didn't want to hear anything more about Potter. He didn't want to think about Potter.
He should have listened to his mother and gone to Durmstrang for his NEWTs.
Five minutes later, he was back in his blessedly empty compartment. He stared at the passing countryside and tried to remember what else he'd told Pansy that might have been potentially embarrassing. The most important thing was not to let them see what you were feeling. That was what his father always used to say. Draco thought he could manage it, now. After intensive Occlumency lessons and nearly a year spent as a spy, he could handle it, especially if he was prepared.
He climbed up to the luggage rack, got out some parchment, a quill, and an inkpot, and then busied himself with trying to remember all of his past conversations with Pansy. When they'd happened, what he'd told her, how much of it had been true. That sort of thing. At least he wouldn't have to worry about what he'd let slip to Crabbe and Goyle. Their parents had sent them to Durmstrang, where they were now repeating their NEWT year. Draco was glad; Crabbe and Goyle probably thought him a blood traitor, too.
Draco had got as far as fourth year and the time he'd told Pansy about his childhood crush on Gwenog Jones, when he felt the train slowing down. He looked up and saw that they were approaching Hogsmeade. Bewildered, he glanced at the notes he'd been making and realised that he'd already filled about fifteen double-sided sheets of parchment. Maybe there was something to the rumours that Occlumency training improved your memory.
He barely had time to put everything away and change into his school robes before the train stopped and loud voices filled the corridor outside. It all sounded so normal, like the war had never happened, like there hadn't been a year's break. Draco didn't know why he'd expected anything different, but he caught himself feeling mildly disappointed. Hundreds had died, but the Hogwarts Express rode again, children were going back to school, and the older students feasted on new gossip. It was as though the war were just a memory, an echo that would die in every heart but those that ached for lost loved ones. Was this all there was to life?
A dull thud startled Draco; someone was trying to pull his compartment door open. He released the latch and found himself face to face with Ginny Weasley.
"Did you lose something?" he asked.
"Have you seen Harry?" Oh, right. She was Potter's girlfriend, wasn't she?
"I ran into him just after we left London, but not since then."
"Bugger," said Ginny, frowning. "Did he tell you where he was going?"
"No," Draco replied. "But you might want to try and Summon his Invisibility Cloak. It worked for me once." That incident felt like a million and a half years ago.
"No need," said Potter's voice. "I'm here."
Draco whirled around and saw Potter sitting with his back to the window, knees drawn up. "Have you been there this whole time?" he spluttered. He tried frantically to remember if he'd been talking to himself at any point. Fuck. He really needed to do something about that habit.
"I fell asleep," said Potter sullenly. "Sorry."
Draco breathed a sigh of relief. Potter certainly looked groggy, and his glasses were lopsided. It was likely that he had sneaked into the compartment and fallen asleep whilst Draco had been out doing reconnaissance. Draco only wished he could stop the sharp feeling of regret that suddenly gripped him at having missed an opportunity to--
--do absolutely nothing, you fucking idiot. Stop it, for your sanity's sake.
Potter got up, stuffed his Cloak into his robe pocket, and walked out.
"Thanks," Ginny said, and jogged after Potter. Draco hauled his trunk out of the compartment and followed them. Thanks for what? he thought, watching her slip an arm round Potter's waist. Potter put his arm round Ginny's shoulders and smiled at her, but he looked sad and lost, like a lonely child.
On the way to the castle, Draco shared a carriage with assorted Hufflepuffs. They yammered inanely about Hufflepuffish things; Draco couldn't bring himself to pay attention. His mind kept wandering back to Potter, to that June night in Grimmauld Place, to their uneasy peace, to Ginny Weasley. The dread he had felt at facing the other Slytherins in the dungeons was quickly dissipating. Having to scheme and bully his way back to the top would distract him from thinking about impossible things.
When Draco walked into the Great Hall, he held his head high, as befitted a war hero. Of sorts. The seventh-year Slytherins were meant to sit nearest the High Table. The others weren't there yet, and Draco took the seat reserved for the eldest boy prefect, at the very head of the table. The rest of them wouldn't be able to say a word about it; it was a school tradition. He couldn't wait for Pansy to get there. She would have to sit across from him for the rest of the year.
Slowly, the Great Hall filled with more voices. There were telling gaps at every table: many parents had sent their children to other schools last year, and it looked like not all of those students had come back. The Slytherin seventh-years would be missing Crabbe, Goyle and Roper. Draco studied the Ravenclaw table, noting that Padma Patil was not there. Neither were Anthony Goldstein or Morag MacDougal. The seventh-year Hufflepuffs were missing four people, none of whom Draco remembered very well.
There were four missing from Gryffindor also: Granger, Weasley, and those two girls who had always kept to themselves. Parvati Patil was there, curiously enough. She and her friend -- Violet? Rose? Something like that -- sat across from Potter, who was flanked by Longbottom on one side and Ginny on the other. Longbottom and Parvati were the seventh-year prefects now, but of course the Gryffindors never cared for tradition, and so their eldest prefects sat next to the sixth-years.
"Oh, no," said a snide voice across from him. Draco looked up. Pansy was standing next to her seat, glaring. He gave her his best blank look.
"Couldn't you have fallen off the train?" she asked, and Draco promptly decided that he would not be needing her services this year. Daphne Greengrass was much prettier, plus her father had better Ministry connections.
He looked Pansy up and down, smirking a bit, and turned away demonstratively to study the teachers. Hagrid was dead, thank God. Draco had no idea who would be teaching Care of Magical Creatures now -- probably that stocky fellow with greenish hair. Unless he was the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. That would be a laugh.
The antechamber door opened with a bang. Out strode Mad-Eye Moody, whose transfiguration skill Draco had still not forgotten, despite having worked with the nutter for nearly a year. Or perhaps because of it. Moody carried a bundle under his arm and led an unusually long procession of very small people.
As they lined up in front of the High Table, Draco stared in confusion. He didn't remember there being that many first-years... Oh. Hogwarts had been closed for a year. There would be twice as many first-years, half of them twelve years old. Fuck. Twice as long to wait for food. Draco's stomach made a noise of protest.
Moody's bundle turned out to be just Sorting paraphernalia. He placed the Sorting Hat onto the stool and stepped aside. The Hat twitched slightly, but no song followed. Draco sneaked a glance at Headmistress McGonagall, who was glaring at the Hat.
The whispers started about three minutes into the silence. They died down immediately when McGonagall rose and walked around the High Table to approach the stool.
"Is there a problem?" she asked. Her tone suggested that there had better not be a problem.
"My duty has always been to this school," the Hat croaked loudly. "To see it stand, to see it proud. To see it lead the wizarding world into a better future. The Founders Four had entrusted me with this duty, and I have failed them. For a thousand years, the Hogwarts houses have been sowing discord. A hundred wars have been fought, their lessons always forgotten."
Draco blinked in astonishment. This was exactly what he'd been thinking earlier. What was going on?
"Hogwarts must survive, Headmistress," continued the Hat, sounding almost sad. "And because it must survive, I refuse to sort any more students."
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