A/N – Happy birthday, Gaeleria
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Draco Malfoy hated his life. There were days he wished that bloody Potter hadn't saved him from the fire, hadn't testified at his trial, hadn't saved the whole damned world. Those were the days he wished he were dead, or in Azkaban, or in whatever other hell might be dreamt up for a failed murderer and incompetent Death Eater. Being at home became unbearable; his parents were like an itch under his skin he couldn't reach with their endless worry and concern and he wished they'd bugger off and leave him alone because he might want to be dead but he was too much of a coward to do anything about that wish so they could just go away.
When it was clear they were not, in fact, going to go away, he wrote to Acting Headmistress McGonagall and asked if she would let him come back and help rebuild Hogwarts. Her reply was formal and courteous and, though he was fairly sure he wasn't actually welcome, she did say that, yes, they were accepting all offers of assistance. He was at the gates the next day.
She told him the Slytherin dorms were in the best condition and that he might as well get settled. Was he planning on redoing his seventh year, she asked, and he grasped onto the idea of a year away from his hovering mother and overly hearty father and said that, yes, he would very much like that opportunity.
She looked a tad sour and Draco smiled at that, anger and self-loathing hidden behind a mask more unfeeling than even the one he had worn as a Death Eater. McGonagall assigned him to the library and he spent two weeks silently picking books up from toppled shelves, checking for damage, and then putting them, still silent, into boxes. The cleaning could be done magically but books had to be cleared away first and each one needed to be hand checked. Madam Pince watched him through narrowed eyes for the first hour but decided, or so he assumed, that he could be trusted not to rip pages out and that he knew the difference between a book requiring repair and a book that merely needed to be reshelved. He was forbidden to enter the Restricted Section. He didn't argue with her.
He sorted books in silence, ate meals with the staff in silence, returned to his room where he stared out into the depths of the lake in silence. It was a relief to be left alone. After two weeks, McGonagall pulled him aside and told him another student would be returning to the castle and joining him in the dorms and that she expected him to behave with courtesy and propriety. The threat of how if he didn't he would be sent home was unvoiced but clear, and Draco gave her his politest smile and said he looked forward to the company.
McGonagall made a peculiar choking noise at that but all she said was that the library work would go faster with another pair of hands and Draco nodded. That night he pulled back his sleeve and ran his finger around and around the ugly Mark on his arm and across the fainter red lines that ran through it. He'd taken it willingly; that thought made him huff out a bitter laugh. He'd been so stupid. Every decision in his short life had been so, so stupid. He was stuck with it now, stuck in a silent life where he'd made too many mistakes.
He sorted books again the next day and then went back to his room to wash away the dust before dinner. He heard the new student come in and realized, based on which dorm she went to, that she had to be a girl. He supposed that explained McGonagall's concern about proprieties.
He waited in the common room to walk her, whoever she was, to dinner because his mother would have given him one of her disappointed looks if she ever found out he hadn't offered that courtesy, even to some Hufflepuff half-blood do-gooder here to make everything shiny again. He'd disappointed his mother enough in his life and preferred to avoid adding any additional failures to his list and so he was standing in the room, idly staring out in the lake and thinking about how peaceful the water was, when he heard the familiar voice behind him.
"Malfoy. Bloody hell," said Hermione Granger.
All he could think was, "Fuck."