Chapter Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: Wherein some questions are answered, hopes for someone to end the madness are in vain, cats are cute, Blaise asks pointed questions, Slughorn is annoying, and Draco is becoming seriously distraught.
Note: The apostrophe in the chapter title is not a typo.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 4 - Some Beginning's End
"What's going on?"
"Where are the tables?"
"I can't believe they're herding us like we're cattle."
The Great Hall's doors slammed shut and Moody hobbled towards the High Table, his wooden leg causing echoes to ricochet off the walls. "That's all of them," he said before taking his place next to the Headmistress.
"Thank you, Professor Moody," said McGonagall, rising. She cleared her throat and turned to face the students lining the walls. "Late yesterday afternoon, the Board of Governors proposed a plan for dividing Hogwarts students without Sorting. The staff and I have agreed that it is in the school's best interests to accept the proposal." She began unrolling a thick scroll of parchment.
Draco crossed his arms and leant against the wall behind him. This ought to be interesting. Hopefully, they hadn't gone with the Beauxbatons method and divided the boys and girls. His mother was on the Board of Governors, but she'd refused to tell him what was going on when he used the Floo to call her last night. For some strange reason, she was under the impression that Draco might go and tell half the school, and she didn't want to lose her position. Draco had no idea why his mother would think such a thing.
Because you'd at least tell everyone you knew what was going on. You know you would.
"Shut up. I'm not thirteen anymore."
A fourth-year Ravenclaw standing on Draco's right gave him a funny look. Draco quickly turned his head to the left, pretending that he was talking to Millicent. Many others were talking in hushed whispers; with luck, no one else would have noticed.
Millicent rolled her eyes and muttered, "You're going to get in trouble for that one day."
Draco shrugged, feigning nonchalance.
McGonagall looked up from the scroll and the whispering quickly died down. "We have decided to divide the students by the same method they use at Durmstrang Institute for Magical Study."
Draco tried to remember what method that was, but failed. The Durmstrang boys had been quite tight-lipped about their school.
"The students shall henceforth be grouped by age. The sixth- and seventh- years shall reside in the South Tower, formerly known as Gryffindor Tower."
"I'll thank you to save the outbursts for later, Mr Finnigan," McGonagall snapped. A few people tittered. "The fourth- and fifth-years shall reside in the East Tower, formerly known as Ravenclaw Tower."
No angry exclamations this time. Draco was still trying to process what McGonagall had just said. Sixth- and seventh-years living together meant being practically in Potter's lap twenty-four hours a day. That thought called up mental images that were definitely not suited for this place or time. Draco glanced at Potter, who was standing halfway across the hall, studying a candle that floated above him. Draco had a funny feeling that Potter had just been looking at him. He wished that his heart wouldn't pound quite so heavily at that thought.
"The second- and third-years shall reside in the dungeons," McGonagall droned on, and Draco felt a stab of resentment. Some greenhorn third year would sleep in his bed? While Draco--
"The first-years shall reside in the basement that formerly housed the Hufflepuffs. Due to space restrictions, we will not allow students to share dormitories only with their former housemates."
Oh great. Bloody wonderful. This was getting better and better. If she had any more good news, Draco would develop a permanent eye twitch.
"The former heads of house shall now be called mentors. They are: Professor Slughorn for the sixth- and seventh- years, Professor Flitwick for the fifth- and fourth-years, Professor Moody for the third- and second-years, and professor Sprout for the first-years. Students of all ages are encouraged to seek out either of the mentors at any time, but only your own mentor is allowed to mete out rewards and punishments. Prefect duties shall now be shared by all seventh-year students; the Head Boy and Head Girl remain the same."
Terry Boot and Hannah Abbott, in other words. The world was doomed.
McGonagall picked up a glass of water and drank. Was it Draco's imagination, or was her hand shaking on the scroll she held?
"Since the houses are no more, Professor Flitwick has designed a new school crest." McGonagall gave Flitwick a slight nod. An enormous black banner unfurled behind the High Table. In the middle of it, there was a silver "H" superimposed on a fainter image of a golden phoenix wreathed in a circle of blue flame. The painted flames moved as though fanned by an invisible breeze.
In Draco's opinion, they could have done without the phoenix, but it seemed apparent that the students would have no choice in any of this. Just as always. He couldn't wait to finish school and start living life by his own rules.
"The Board of Governors has also decided that the point system shall be abolished." Draco wondered if the hourglasses would be gone from the Entrance Hall's wall now. "Officially sanctioned competition between groups of students is hereby restricted to Quidditch only."
"At least they're not cancelling Quidditch," Draco whispered to no one in particular.
"Hear, hear," said the Ravenclaw fourth-year just as quietly.
"However, Quidditch shall be restricted to the four upper years only. Madam Hooch will hold tryouts next week and pick a team from each year. Second- and third-year students shall be allowed their own broomsticks and access to the Quidditch pitch, but they may not play for the school."
Angry muttering broke out amongst the younger students, but it was soon quelled by another hard look of McGonagall's.
"First-years shall not be allowed broomsticks just as before, but flying lessons shall be held over the next two Fridays, supervised by Madam Hooch. Schedules and student lists for these shall be posted in the first-years' common room."
McGonagall put the scroll down and flicked her wand to her left. A table about half the length of the old house tables appeared there, along with benches. "Seventh-years, please."
It was exactly where the head of the Slytherin table used to be, but Slytherin no longer existed. Draco still couldn't believe it. He kept expecting that someone -- his mother, Scrimgeour, anyone -- would suddenly pop out of nowhere and tell them it had all been a big joke, that they had fixed the Sorting Hat and life would go back to normal.
He walked with deliberate slowness, watching for his housemates. Former housemates. Former or not, he could still sit with them. He slid onto a bench next to Nott, and Millicent sat down on his other side. They were near the middle of the table; the head was occupied by a few Ravenclaws and Ernie Macmillan. Potter and Longbottom were just sitting down near the further end of the table.
Pansy sat in front of Draco, and for the first time this year, he was grateful to see her there. Some things would never change. If the school officials expected the older students to become fast friends because of sitting at the same table and sharing dormitories, they were in for a big surprise.
There was a tense silence as everyone looked at one another.
"What do we do now?" asked Finnigan, who had in the meantime squeezed in between Potter and a dark-eyed Ravenclaw boy. Or whatever he was now that there was no Ravenclaw.
"Let's hope she stops talking before we starve," called Zacharias Smith from the opposite end of the table.
Behind them, the sixth-years were taking their seats at an identical table. Within fifteen minutes, there were seven tables -- six short ones for everyone above first year, and a long one for the first-years where the Gryffindor table used to be. An awkward silence reigned everywhere, it seemed, except amongst the first-years. They'd spent several days living in the hospital wing, after all, and they didn't know any better.
McGonagall spoke again. "I have a few more notices, and then dinner will be served."
"Oh, joy. I can't wait for the notices," muttered Nott. "It's not like we've had enough for one night."
Megan Jones giggled. Nott gave her a bewildered look, then turned to Draco, as though expecting instructions. Draco just shrugged.
"The school's curriculum shall remain unchanged," said McGonagall. "Class schedules will be distributed at breakfast on Monday. Tomorrow morning, all students who must move to a new location are expected to pack their possessions and report to their mentors, who will escort you to your new dormitories. Leave your belongings behind; the house-elves will move them as necessary."
"Right," said Zabini. "Am I supposed to trust the house-elves not to mix anything up?"
"They can read, can't they?" Morag drawled. "Or is your name not on your trunk?"
Zabini gave a one-armed shrug, eyeing the girl with some suspicion. "They're house-elves," he said. "You never know with house-elves."
"Smooth, Zabini," said Draco, smirking.
"Oh, shut it."
"The forest in the grounds is forbidden to all pupils," McGonagall continued. "However, one member of the Board of Governors has pointed out that it is against the law for the school to restrict the movement of those students who have been of age for over a year. Any student over eighteen may leave the school grounds at any time, but let it be known that this will be heavily discouraged and punished if taken to excess."
"Hogsmeade. Any time!" said Terry Boot.
Macmillan gave him an incredulous look. "Didn't you hear her? Punished!"
"So? Detention's never hurt anyone, and they can't expel us," called Dean Thomas.
"Thanks, Mum," Draco said under his breath. The ability to leave the school grounds and Apparate home at any time would be wonderful.
"Your mum's on the Board?" asked Millicent. "Since when?"
"Since this year," said Draco airily. In July, his mother had decided that enough time had passed with no representation from the Malfoy family on the Hogwarts Board of Governors. He had no idea what she had done to become one of the twelve members, but he wasn't about to admit that to anyone.
"No magic should be used between classes in the corridors," McGonagall said, "and a list of items forbidden at Hogwarts is posted on the door to the caretaker's office."
She sat down somewhat abruptly, and an instant later, food appeared on the tables.
It was probably the quietest dinner in the history of Hogwarts.
After dinner, the Slytherin common room was even quieter. Draco sat in one of the armchairs by the fireplace and watched Zabini's kitten, Lolita, demolish a bright orange piece of parchment.
"I hope that's not anything important," Draco said to Zabini, who was sitting in the armchair opposite. He didn't look up. Lolita was on her back; she had one corner of the parchment in her mouth, and was trying in vain to claw at it with her hind legs.
"Nah," said Zabini. "She found it next to the bin."
"Why'd you get a cat?" asked Draco. Lolita rolled over, dropped the parchment to the floor and began batting at it with one of her front paws, claws out.
"If you must know, I found her half-starved at the side of the road during a walk," said Zabini. "I couldn't leave her. She was so tiny."
The cat seemed to sense that they were talking about her; she stopped playing with the parchment and turned to look at Zabini, her pink nose in stark contrast to her shiny black fur.
"Blaise Zabini, saviour of kittens," Pansy cut in. "Who would have thought?"
"Hi, Daphne," said Draco, turning to look at her. Daphne, who had arrived with Pansy as was to be expected, smiled demurely and sat down on a sofa.
"You should probably keep that touching story to yourself when we move tomorrow," said Pansy, her voice a touch too loud. "I reckon the Gryffindors expect us to torture kittens, not rescue them."
"Former Gryffindors," said Zabini. "And I wish you wouldn't remind me of tomorrow."
"I agree," said Nott from the corner, where he was playing chess with the Bloody Baron.
"What about the ghosts, then?" asked Draco, turning to the Baron. "Whose ghost will you be now?"
The Bloody Baron made a face. "No one's. Queen's knight's pawn to G5."
Nott nudged the black pawn to move as instructed. "You can still visit us, can't you?"
"The Headmistress hasn't forbidden it."
Draco stared into the empty fireplace. With any luck, the three seventh-year Slytherin boys in their year could stay in the same dormitory, even if they did have to share it with Hufflepuffs or Ravenclaws or both. A part of him still hoped that he would wake up tomorrow and it would all have been a bizarre dream. At least all the news had kept him from thinking about Potter.
So much for that. You're thinking about him now. Draco looked away from the fireplace and forced himself to focus on Lolita, who had resumed her battle against the orange parchment.
"Do you like cats, Daphne?" he asked. He would just need to keep distracting himself. A lot.
"No, she doesn't," announced Millicent, who had been lurking behind the Bloody Baron. "She hates Herbert."
Herbert, Millicent's grey cat, suddenly leapt out of the shadows next to the fireplace and landed next to Lolita. The startled kitten gave a loud yowl and sprang a good foot into the air. Draco laughed, as did Millicent.
"He's just jealous," said Zabini to Lolita, who had in the meantime slinked over to his armchair and attempted to hide behind his legs.
Herbert raised his fluffy tail and swished it, then trotted back into the shadows.
Still chuckling, Draco turned to Daphne. "How can you not like them?"
"They leave hair everywhere," said Daphne. "And besides--"
"I like cats," interrupted Pansy.
"That's nice," said Draco without looking at her.
"Checkmate!" crowed Nott.
"Knavish, impertinent, dog-hearted rampallion!" huffed the Bloody Baron.
"Good one, sir," said Nott appreciatively.
The Bloody Baron had lost several hundred games of chess over the years, and every time, he had a different insult for his opponent. That would end, too, for the most part. Draco turned back to the fireplace.
"Everything's going to change now, isn't it?" he asked. It annoyed him that the question might as well have been rhetorical.
"I'm going to bed," Zabini announced. "Come, Lolita."
He picked up the kitten and headed into the corridor that led to the boys' dormitories. Just before disappearing past the heavy curtain that hung in the doorway, he turned and gave Draco an unreadable look.
Draco stared after him for a good minute. That look... the curious way Zabini had looked at Potter before the circus in the Great Hall... last night's conversation... Draco glanced at Nott and the Bloody Baron, who were already having another game.
"I'm going to bed too," Draco said, rising.
Pansy raised her eyebrows. "So early?"
"It's my last chance to sleep in a bed that isn't a smelly Gryffindor cast-off," said Draco. "Good night, Daphne."
"G'night," said Daphne, smiling widely now. Pansy looked furious.
Zabini was already in bed by the time Draco reached the dormitory, and was just about to pull the curtains shut.
"What's going on?" Draco asked him, pausing in the doorway. "What was that look about?"
"What look?" Zabini's face was a study in haughty curiosity.
"Don't play stupid. You turned around just earlier and gave me a look. What was that about?"
Zabini slid into a sitting position. "You expect me to just tell you, don't you?"
"You'd do better to tell me," said Draco, and let his hand stray to his wand pocket briefly. "Unless you want me to force it out of you."
He took a step forwards and Zabini's thin smile wavered a bit. "Why are you and Potter hiding it?"
Draco's blood ran cold. "Hiding what?" he managed, squeezing his fingers into a fist to keep his hand from shaking.
"You're best mates now, aren't you?"
'Relief' was too weak a word for what Draco felt. "What? No! Of course not," he said. "What makes you think that?"
"Well, you're fairly good at hiding it, but he just wants to follow you around like a puppy, doesn't he?"
"Why is that supposed to make us best mates? I don't follow him around, do I?"
"No, but you don't tell him to bugger off, either."
"So if I don't tell someone to bugger off, that makes us best mates?"
"This isn't just someone. This is Potter. You hate Potter."
Draco leaned against the doorframe. "Did you already manage to forget that I spied for Potter during he war?"
Zabini raised an eyebrow. "I thought you did that for yourself, not for him."
"Of course I did it for myself -- well, for my family," said Draco quickly. "But when you're on the same side in a war, it's a bit difficult to maintain a deep loathing of the person you report to. That doesn't mean we're best mates. We'll never be best mates."
"Well, maybe you should tell Potter that," said Zabini. "If he didn't have a girlfriend, I'd think he had a crush on you."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Draco with a forced laugh. "Go to sleep, Zabini. I think you've had a bit too much excitement for one day."
Zabini scoffed and reached over to pull the curtains shut. The candlelight flickered across his bare torso and Draco's mouth went dry. The curtain hid Zabini from view and Draco tried to tell himself that he was just tired. He was definitely not supposed to be having these sorts of reactions to Zabini. Or boys in general.
It was all Potter's fault.
Breakfast on Saturday was somewhat livelier than Friday's dinner. The Slytherins managed to group together at the seventh-years' table; it was almost like being back to normal, if one didn't count the bleary-eyed Hufflepuffs right next to them.
After breakfast, they hurried to their dormitories and packed their trunks, and then the sixth- and seventh-year Slytherins assembled in the common room one last time.
"This is going to be the strangest year ever," declared Vaisey.
"Look on the bright side," said Millicent, who was clutching Herbert to her chest. "We'll have a better view from the dormitories now."
"I'd rather stare at the bottom of the lake all day long than be shut up in that tower with a bunch of Gryffindors," said Draco.
"And Hufflepuffs," said Daphne.
"And Ravenclaws," supplied Nott.
"Ugh," said Pansy.
"Well, here goes nothing," said Draco.
Without waiting for acknowledgement, he walked out of the common room. There was no point in delaying the inevitable. He heard the others following in uncharacteristic silence. They arrived in front of Slughorn's office to find the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs already there.
"Ah, and here are the former Slytherins," said Slughorn, dry-washing his hands. "Fashionably late as always!" He winked. Draco wanted to fire a choking hex at him. "Is everyone here now?" He stood on tiptoes and counted heads, his walrus moustache quivering. "Thirty-six, yes."
The disordered group ascended to the seventh floor, with Slughorn in the lead. As they passed painting after painting, Draco realised that he'd only been here a dozen or so times before, and all of those times had been during prefect duty or Inquisitorial Squad patrols, always at night. This part of the castle seemed so different from the dungeons, with daylight filtering through stained-glass windows here and there.
"Here we are, then," announced Slughorn when they arrived at the portrait of the Fat Lady, who was looking gloomy. "There, there, my dear Lady. There shall be a password after we're done here."
The portrait swung forwards wordlessly. Draco stared at the entrance with some trepidation. The Gryffindor common room. At the end of fourth year, Draco had tried to organise a raid here and charm all the furniture to develop teeth. They hadn't been able to get past the Fat Lady, though, and in fifth year, there had been more pressing matters. Not even speaking of sixth year...
Now he was about to walk inside to stay.
With a sigh, he followed Millicent through the portrait hole. He was expecting his eyes to be assaulted with scarlet and gold, but was pleasantly surprised: the room was certainly brighter than the Slytherin common room, but the walls were a neutral light grey and the squashy armchairs and sofas were black.
"I wonder if it's always been like this," Draco said to Millicent.
"Oh. Doubt it. Didn't you hear Entwhistle and Cornfoot complaining? Flitwick changed the Ravenclaw common room while they were still there."
Draco was glad he hadn't had to witness the Slytherin common room turning into a generic version of itself. The Hogwarts houses may have bred unhealthy competition, but at least they'd had spirit. What were they all supposed to be proud of now? Being approximately the same age?
The sixth- and seventh-year Gryffindors were assembled at two tables near the window. Potter sat with his arm round Ginny's shoulders, but he was looking only at Draco.
There was something like innocence in Potter's green eyes, made all the more perverse by what he was doing. "Want me to stop?"
Draco wanted to scream, yes, stop, this is wrong, but instead he whispered, "No."
"Good. I don't want to s-s-stop--"
Draco's hand was doing that by itself; he couldn't possibly have been stroking Potter's cock--
He'd meant to say, stop.
Potter raised his head again, and those damnable eyes were on Draco's. "What?"
"Nothing. Don't stop. "
Draco made himself look away. It didn't make things any better; his eyes met Zabini's. "I told you so," mouthed Zabini.
Slughorn approached the Gryffindors, waving for the newcomers to follow. Draco used this as an excuse to sidle up to Daphne, much to Pansy's covert but nevertheless obvious displeasure. He didn't care. If anyone noticed his hard-on, it would be embarrassing, but at least he was standing next to a girl.
"All right," Slughorn said. "As I'm sure you remember, there is not enough room for everyone to divide up by your old houses. So, as the veterans, the Gryffindors will be allowed to choose who ends up in their rooms!"
Draco rolled his eyes at Slughorn's back and exchanged glances with Daphne. He wished the man would stop acting like they were a bunch of moronic teenagers.
"We'll start with the seventh-year girls, then. Parvati, Lavender? You have three spots in your dormitory, am I correct?"
"Yes," said Parvati Patil. "We already know who we want."
"Hannah, Millicent, and Daphne," said Lavender Brown.
Draco gave Daphne a quizzical look and saw it mirrored in her eyes. Hannah Abbott and Millicent were understandable, given their Orders of Merlin, but Daphne? Why Daphne and not Susan Bones or Lisa Turpin? Women were strange.
"Nice and quick!" exclaimed Slughorn. "Now, the boys. One spot?"
"We haven't really discussed it, sir," said Finnigan with a scowl.
"Well, that's all right then, each of you can say whom you'd rather have and if someone's mentioned twice, he's the winner!"
"More like the loser," whispered someone -- not a Slytherin -- behind Draco.
Slughorn beamed at Potter. "Harry?"
"Malfoy." There was no hesitation in Potter's voice.
Draco heard Zabini chuckle softly, but he didn't dare look around. He wasn't worried, anyway. None of the other Gryffindors would pick him.
Finnigan smiled unpleasantly. "Boot."
Draco guessed that Terry Boot must have been the one to have made the "loser" remark earlier.
Draco relaxed. There was no way in the known universe that Longbottom would want to share a dormitory with him.
"Huh?" Longbottom looked guilty. He'd been staring out of the window and not paying attention, apparently.
"It's your turn to pick." Slughorn's voice was pained.
Longbottom frowned. "Pick what?"
"Your new roommate."
"Oh! Right. Malfoy, then."
Oh, no, he didn't.