Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry
“That’s not your seat, Greg.”
“Well, whose is it, then! It’s not like they’re labeled!”
Years of experience prompted Draco’s response. He turned to the others waiting to fill the alphabetically ordered row and stared them down. “Goyle’s with me.”
“S’okay,” said Ernie Macmillan, “we can sort out our order when we’re called up.” He shuffled past them into the row.
Megan Jones nodded peaceably, as did Daphne; Su Li and Morag MacDougal still looked slightly troubled at the breach in protocol. They turned to Longbottom with a questioning look, but he dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Nah, it’s good,” he agreed, gesturing for the four witches to enter first.
It was obvious Greg was embarrassed. “Thanks.”
Longbottom took the seat on the other side of him. “We blokes need to stick together, is all.”
Draco turned to study the gathering crowd. There was a striking absence of animosity in the audience, overall — no threatening glances, no empty seats separating factions like there would have been before . . .
Except next to his mother. She sat alone for several long minutes, her dignified posture belying her vulnerability, until a small, round-faced woman who could only be Mrs. Bones stood from a familial group toward the back of the hall and made her way forward, pausing by his mother with a timid smile. He let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding as his mother gave a dignified nod and the woman sat to her left.
No one took the seats to her right for a long while, the empty chairs mocking Draco from across the room, until an oddly dressed couple approached that section. He shifted to get a better look – the woman wore some sort of modified men’s robes and she looked quite good in them. The man’s robes were oddly cut as well; Draco had just decided they were foreigners when Granger joined them, towing Harry Potter in what appeared to be a death grip.
It was obvious who the man and woman were, then; the woman bore a strong physical resemblance to Granger while the man had the same mop of curly hair. Draco felt vaguely ashamed for not having guessed right the first time. Of course they were her parents – they practically had the word Muggle stamped across their foreheads.
The next few seconds were surreal. The Granger group paused at his mother’s row and filed in. Mr. Granger took the seat beside her and began speaking with her, and Mrs. Granger, who sat next to her husband, leaned forward to join the brief conversation. Granger all but dragged Potter past them to the two empty seats at the tail end of the group. She looked positively ill and was looking everywhere but at her parents.
Draco watched in stunned curiosity. Had they been introduced in the Entrance Hall by a mutual friend? The existence of such a person seemed unlikely unless it had been a member of staff . . . Oh, that was probably it – Professor Hipthripple was no doubt in full Reconciliation form amongst all the parents. Hang on; that couldn’t be right — as soon as he’d left the headmistress’s office this morning, the professor was going to introduce his mother to his host-
No. He thought quickly. It was far more likely the Boneses had agreed to house him for the summer; perhaps Mrs. Bones had met the Grangers and invited them to sit with her out of common courtesy. It was exactly the sort of thing Susan would do, and it stood to reason her mother would do the same. But the Grangers weren’t talking with Mrs. Bones, were they — they were chatting with his mother. Which could only mean they’d been previously introduced. And then there was that brief exchange after they’d sat down, and Granger’s expression . . .
As if to confirm the theory, she whipped her head around just then and shot him a murderous glare.
Salazar protect them all. To compound the situation, it occurred to him he’d checked out Granger’s mother. Mercifully distracted by the sound of the doors closing at the back of the Great Hall, Draco shifted from one unreality to another. He was about to graduate.
The convocation passed in a blur of sensations as he grappled with the idea. A month ago he’d have said there was nothing he wanted more than to cross that dais; now he wasn’t so sure he could do it. Crowds had never been his forte, but these days they triggered a panicky urge to flee.
The headmistress was welcoming the Minister for Magic — guest speaker for this unique event — to the lectern. Draco surveyed the crowd out of the corner of his eye. Would it maintain such neutrality when he stood on the dais? It hadn’t during his trial – there’d been a steady murmur of disapproval the entire time and, when his sentence was pronounced and it was only a year of probation and mandatory completion of his schooling, more than one voice had been raised in angry protest. Afterward, outside the Ministry, a mob had tried to-
Beside him Greg shifted, his massive frame far too big for an average-sized chair. The movement diverted Draco’s attention just enough to allow escape from the memory, but it also pinned his right shoulder to the back of his chair. He nudged his friend, but Greg had dozed off. At the lectern, the Minister cleared his throat. “First,” he began, “let us take a moment to reflect upon those not with us today – the members of this class who died for their beliefs, their parentage, and with unassailable valor in battle . . . ”
Fuck. The desire to escape was now coupled with the onset of all the symptoms of one of his episodes. The faces of the fallen rose from his perfect memory in accusation. No, he’d never killed anyone – but he’d witnessed more savagery and death than anyone else his age, and he’d done nothing to stop it. How many times had he fallen for the ruse of a father-son outing, only to- He squeezed shut his eyes to block out the images that sprang to mind unbidden.
Dread began to curl around his limbs like poison mist. He took a deep breath. One of the female students sitting nearby had on enough perfume to confuse a werewolf; its cloying scent caused his stomach to roil and his brain to leap to another association. Suddenly he was in a different great hall, still pinned down, still nauseated by an overpowering scent, only this time his left arm was bared to the elbow and he was begging-
Greg snorted in his sleep, and Draco would have jumped out of his skin had not his shoulder still been pinned down. Actually, he probably would have hugged Greg at that point. Freed from his brain once more, he looked for something else on which to focus while he waited for his heart to stop racing. He latched onto the sound of the Minister’s deep, resonant voice and took another deep breath.
He could do this.
“ . . . and so we look ahead to a world made brighter for all of us by the power of reconciliation — of honesty, accountability, and finally peace . . . ”
He could feel Granger’s death-glare boring into the side of his head. Oh, gods –- how much did her parents know of his past? He’d clung to the illusion of safety offered by Hogwarts this past school year, but now it was slipping from his white-knuckled grip. Reconciliation was beautiful in theory and, therefore, in academia. Outside these walls retribution for all he’d seen and done –- whether by choice or not –- awaited him. The collar of his robes rubbed against his sweat-slicked neck.
He couldn’t do this.
The Minister was now gesturing to a seat in the front row of the student section. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the eighth year class representative, Miss Susan Bones.”
Susan made her way up the dais steps and across the platform. She looked nervous but prepared as she set her notes on the lectern and directed a tremulous smile at the audience. “When I was a little girl, my aunt often told me, ‘character is defined by what we do when no one is looking’ . . . ”
The audience hummed its approval, and she continued what was probably an excellent speech, but Draco perseverated on that quotation. What would he do — what would he have done — without the spectatorship that dominated his life? For once his mind had no ready answer.
Susan was done all too quickly, and then the headmistress was calling forth the first student while the rest of the class straightened in anticipation. “Where am I supposed to be?” rumbled Greg.
A class of twenty-eight students only took up so much time; Draco squandered most of it trying not to think of the terrible acts by which he’d defined himself in full view of nearly every person present. He stood automatically with the rest of his row and followed to the side aisle.
“Gregory Goyle.” At Professor Hipthripple’s prompt, Greg climbed the steps and lumbered across the platform to where the headmistress waited with her armful of scrolls. The line shifted forward as Greg shook her hand, then the professor’s, and finally the Minister’s. The audience applauded him, and Greg looked incredibly relieved as he returned to his seat.
Seven students, and then it would be his turn to stand however briefly before a crowd that for all its current goodwill might just as easily revile him given the opportunity. Except for his mother –- and she made herself equally vulnerable by sitting there for him and him alone. He squared his shoulders and lifted his chin in determination.
He could do this.
Six. The thought of his mother led to one of the Grangers. What reason did they have for agreeing to help someone who’d so relentlessly persecuted their daughter? Because he had; he’d made every year of school hell for her, and all for whatever approval he could garner from his- He tugged down the right sleeve of his robes, clamping the edge in his fingers.
Five. A familiar feeling began to creep over Draco; his hands started to tingle and his head felt as though it might drift off his shoulders. He sucked in a lungful of air.
Li crossed the dais, then Longbottom, then MacDougal, then Macmillan, all in what seemed to be seconds. Professor Hipthripple’s voice suddenly seemed twice amplified as she called, “Draco Malfoy.”
His hand lifted the hem of his robes automatically; his feet found the stairs of their own accord. Twenty steps to the headmistress, who was watching him closely. There was a roaring in his ears. Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen . . . His shoes clacked the count across the wooden platform . . . Thirteen, twelve, eleven. . . He passed along the long row of faculty and staff. . . . Seven, six, five . . . Professor Snape’s empty chair, reserved for him even in death, drew and held his attention. He lost track of his steps as a wave of vertigo washed over him.
But the headmistress was directly ahead now, offering deliverance in the form of an outstretched hand; Draco managed one last uncoordinated step and took hold of her strong, gnarled grip. She regarded him sternly for a fraction of a second and then, as she passed him along to Professor Hipthripple, murmured, “You’re not on trial today, Mr. Malfoy.”
Apparently he wasn’t; in the time it took to walk from the headmistress to the professor, Draco realized the roaring in his ears had nothing at all to do with the audience, which was now applauding him, albeit quietly. The professor beamed at him in genuine delight when he shook her hand, and the Minister gave him a firm nod, and then he was descending the steps on the far side of the dais and crossing in front of it to his seat in the student section.
He stole a glance at his mother as he edged past the others in his row. Had she looked dignified before? Now she looked downright regal, her head high and her shoulders thrown back in triumph as she stared straight ahead. Just as he was about to sit she turned her head marginally and caught his gaze with shining eyes, and she smiled. Only it wasn’t just a smile — it was love and devotion and pride, and all for him.
Draco’s knees were suddenly weak; he gave her as confident a smile as he could and sank into his chair, all too aware that the current streak of good things in his life must soon be, as dictated by experience, counterbalanced by the very, very bad. It was just one more thing to avoid thinking about, and so he spent the remainder of the ceremony mentally listing antidotes refuting the validity of Golpalott’s Third Law.