Author's Note: This fic begins right after the events of Death Hallows, switching between the third-person perspectives of Harry and Draco. Although it is likeliest to have no relevance here, out of personal resentment I want to make note of the despicable epilogue in DH as being nonexistent in full capacity anywhere in my story's universe (whether it is ever addressed or not :P). Other than that all-too-necessary exception, though, the sequence of this story remains consistent with the canon.

Chapter 1 Perfect World

"Cast me not off in the time of old age" - Psalms 71:9

Draco truly felt he was undergoing unbearable torture the minute he walked through the barrier to Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters at King's cross. It was September first again, and herds of new and returning students crowded the platform with their families, chattering happily amongst themselves. In a moment a loudly blown horn made everyone squeal in excitement to see the Hogwarts Express finally pull up. He and his mother had wised arriving thirty-five minutes early in light of the "special" circumstances this year, but it'd made no difference considering the platform was already packed as if the train were departing for Hogwarts in five.

Draco grunted bitterly. "Mother, must I go through with this, must I forfeit myself to all the unwanted shame and humiliation no doubt awaiting me?" he pleaded irritably, frowning at the familiar sight of the train even as the crowd unleashed their deafening cheer of welcome. It had never seemed so unwelcoming before to him, Draco, so everyone else's cheering disagreement was utterly meaningless. As of matter of fact, the beaming, widened smiles in his every direction shortly grew to be something of annoyance, like a million sprouted eyesores; in the end Draco could do little other than seethe at the scenery surrounding him…

Narcissa Malfoy frowned furiously at her insubordinate son, and proceeded to very plainly remind him of her most prime, toxic ultimatum. "Draco, you will go to school, take your N.E.W.T.S., and with any luck be home with a successful report before Christmas arrives." Her tone couldn't have sounded stricter, uncharacteristically militant in enunciating these words to him. Sternly eyeing Draco's cold, silent expression of repulsion, Narcissa waited with stiffness until his terse shoulders lost their smug extra weight. She was not giving in. "Is that clear, Draco? You hear me? You will conduct yourself immaculately throughout your last stay at Hogwarts, and I mean it. After what your father has done to our family name, I shudder to think..."

But Draco had daringly turned his back to his mother and now stalked off with his trunk, not once looking back. He seemed to intentionally withhold even the slightest bit of respect from his mother, whom these days he was on the border of being estranged with. More easily put off by each other daily, Draco's utmost disgust surprised even his own self as he pushed onto the train and stalked over everyone until he found his usual compartment of choice at the tail-end. It was deserted, just as he'd unsurprisingly wished. Sighing, Draco dropped his luggage down and fell to his lazy seat. Closing his eyes for a meditative moment, Draco was distracted away from the sight out the window, momentarily disregarding all the unworried, joyful students socializing in their circles. He absolutely refused to entertain them; seeing their harmonious spectacle made him way too envious, too disgusted with the fact that they got to enjoy happiness on their first day while he did not.

Overtaken by such heavy thoughts, Draco wrote his first words about the day in the red-colored pages of his green, Slytherin-styled diary. Typically not a seemly hobby for someone like him, it nonetheless became a catharsis ever since he'd started keeping it in secret following the final siege at Hogwarts mere weeks ago. Simply put, it was stress-relieving like nothing else for Draco. It was just amazing to him that something so rudimentary allowed him to candidly express himself without ever the impediment of a second thought. As such, since Draco candidly wrote in it without ever the impediment of a second thought, thus, his diary pronounced his sinister outlook on present things with painful accuracy:

September 1st, 1998

"While everybody else has their picture-perfect sky now that Harry Potter, bloody 'Chosen' Potter, has defeated the Dark Lord, I have the mortifying news that Father's been sentenced to Azkaban for life. Need I even mention everyone's soon-to-be severed attitude about my family? I truly do think, yes with certainty, that word of my father's bust will spread both rapidly and inflammatorily, just like an indestructible fire, and in the end explain why the Malfoy name suddenly lost its legacy. Yes, I dread the most humiliating day has yet to sweep Mother and me beneath the rug of PERMANENT infamy! A freak show bloodied by Hellfire...That's what my bloody second Seventh Year already promises to be, I'm afraid.

Matters are just puzzled worse than ever right now, obviously.

Yes, Voldemort's death was a huge miracle for me in many important ways — no more Death Eater suicide missions, no more forfeiting my own freewill, no more committing Unforgivable Curses at the perilous risk of a life sentence in Azkaban (Father being of course a primary example of the real-life consequence of such things) —but I'm still shorthanded either way! It's simple: now that my inglorious father's been nailed for good after so many years uncaught, consequentially the Malfoy name, built on centuries of rich Pureblood legacy, has nothing left but its own diminishment….

And now that McGonagall is forcing us all to come back after a "highly disastrous school year marked by highly erroneous curriculum" (word-for-word from the default letter I received a fortnight ago), I have to do over my seventh Hogwarts year before I can get passed my N.E.W.T.S! It's outrageous, but just to satisfy the agenda of the Half-Bloods and Mudbloods, "The Dark Arts" officially isn't a Hogwarts subject anymore, and now everyone who took it last year has to take remedial Defense Against the Dark Arts instead. It's bloody dim-witted if I do say so myself. As a matter of fact, I'd never been this reluctant to board the Hogwarts Express on a prior September the first."

Once Draco read back his latest entry, tiresomely exhaling a few hoarse breaths, he shut his diary back into hiding right away. Only able to look through the perspective of a skewed mental state at this moment in time, the young Malfoy decided fast that "Reality" (which he certainly could slang the 'R' word at this point in his life if he so wished) had officially lost its alignment to the Universe, and now strayed from its rightful, all-pertinent path; , deluded or not, that certainly made it far easier for his brain to comprehend why pandemonium so prominently surrounded him while the rest of the wizarding world moved forward peacefully.

Wistful suddenly, the angst-ridden adolescent released a deep breath of steaming, mind-boggled frustration and tried his best to ignore the aggravating noise of last-minute boarding...

Harry could not put into words how surreal it felt returning to Hogwarts for his seventh year. Given he'd just spent a year not in school but working on the whole 'Conquer Voldemort!' objective (which he was unable to fully accomplish until just weeks ago), coming back made him feel fully gravitated almost. And he had mixed feelings about that; he had just proved his knowledge of Defense Against the Dark Arts for the whole wizarding world, obviously, and it felt sort of laughable that he now had to take the course one last time before taking his N.E.W.T.S. Then again, Harry feared he was being a little conceited about it though, and reminded himself constantly that it was going to be nice either way being back at the only place he felt safe calling home. After all, for the first time ever Lord Voldemort wouldn't be a treacherous, very personal life-threatening concern on Harry's mind —

How unfathomable.

Nonetheless, September first had come again, and like so many times before, he, Hermione, Ron and Ginny had rendezvoused at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters to depart for Hogwarts. Unfortunately, the mayhem from the crowds of intrigued people trying to approach Harry overwhelmed his every direction more than ever imaginable:

"Harry Potter, such an honor —"

"Mr. Potter, may I please have your autograph right quick?"

"Oh my God, it's him, Harry Potter!"

"Is it really him?"

These lines followed Harry repeatedly, accentuated by incredulous gasps and stunned expressions from strangers everywhere. Harry felt so badgered after a solid ten minutes of this harassment, in fact, that he almost lost his temper and screamed at someone. Luckily Ginny pulled him by the arm, bumped him past a few people, and managed to get them inside the train without further hassles. Hermione and Ron, luckily a step ahead, had already jumped aboard and stood idling in their wait for him and Ginny.

Unsurprisingly, a second arousal of excitement ensued, except this time they were stuck in the claustrophobic limits of the train. The four had to push and shove past swamps of star-struck faces, hoping each consecutive compartment was theirs to occupy. But once they were halfway across the train, Hermione reluctantly came to a sudden halt and sympathetically said to Harry, Ron, and Ginny, "I'll have to try and catch up with you three later. I'm terribly sorry but I've got to get to my first meeting as Head Girl — Heavens, I'm so nervous!" Hermione anxiously relayed, talking fast.

"Okay, see you afterward then, Hermione," Harry said back, managing to sound encouraging in tone despite the highly annoying rowdiness. Smiling, he added, "Good luck, not that you even need it."

Ron grunted unenthusiastically, not understanding how Hermione of all people could ever doubt herself in anything school-related. "To understate the ruddy obvious, mate!" he threw in, irritable as ever (understandably).

Ginny winked. "Don't even worry about it, Hermione, just do what you do best. Be yourself and you'll do great!" she advised Hermione, but was then distracted as a Third Year boy blatantly bumped into her and unapologetically sped on. Furious with the uncaring, overt rudeness from the boy, Ginny yelled, "You bloody git!"

Hermione frowned. "You okay, Ginny?"

"Yes, that was just a stupid scrawny little kid, anyway," Ginny reassured her.

Hermione nodded, making a grumpy look at Ron before turning around to head to her meeting.

Harry, Ginny and Ron exchanged unsure looks but kept moving, impatient to find an empty compartment already.

The Great Hall seemed twice as full as normal. Every seat on each House table was filled to the centimeter. Very unusually, about a dozen reporters hid in the background, watching. The chatter of the scene was exponentially louder than the already deafening uproar normal to the start-of-term feast. And expectantly, pretty much all eyes awed upon Harry the minute he sat down. Hermione and Ron, sitting at his either side, were now forced to act like bodyguards. Blessedly, however, Harry was of course insured by their natural instinct to protect him; it was a forever-lasting second-nature that basically defined their untouchable friendship, nothing short of an animal instinct. For Hermione and Ron it hence felt like an irresistible NEED to assuage Harry of aggravation.

Harry meanwhile felt a sting of guilt for feeling glad that they'd been separated from Ginny. Why I am I happy that I didn't have to sit with her? He begged of himself. Why, WHY this terrible feeling? Secretly though, in truth Harry more than half-recognized the obvious change of heart growing inside himself, and not for the first time either. He wanted to pretend these striking new feelings foresaw no unwanted consequences, but day-by-day in his spite this thing pegging him inside became solidly identifiable; yes, misfortunate as it was, the nature of this dark possession was dawning clearer, Harry had to self-admit to this (reluctantly or not).

At this very moment as he sat in the Great Hall, awaiting the festivities, suddenly Harry felt his palms and forehead sweat a bit as he anxiously fathomed that unbecoming change was coming. His startled mind encompassed a strengthening disinterest that was going to force him to make a choice about someone special. So, now intently averting denial, Harry Potter inconspicuously tapped his nervous fingers on the table, heaved a deep sigh, and then tried to silently acknowledge who this pertinent person in question was...

Oh but no, no, he didn't think he could bear it.

Thankfully, Harry was nudged at the back by Ron, who pointed excitedly at the staff table. Harry, mortified (slightly anyway), redirected his eyes over at the staff table. He first noticed that most of the normal professors were present as usual (i.e. Flitwick, Sinistra, Sprout), and for a second was almost annoyed at Ron for the harsh alert. But then Harry was blindsided by the one new addition, presumably the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Harry was stunned by the appearance of a very familiar person, utterly so in fact, and slipped into another unreal daze. It was totally just impossible, Harry reacted, that of all possible candidates, this person truly sat next to Hagrid: it was none other than Fleur Delacour, making her to-die-for smile, shining her silver eyes. Confident-looking in light-pink exquisite robes and a gold mermaid necklace, in a meticulous match Fleur wore her new platinum-blonde, perfectly straightened hair like a true natural, procuring it the occasional wave with sophistication. The half-Veela's poise was just perfect-looking overall, the most eloquent appearance of the night by far.

Hermione scowled at Ron as his jaw dropped and his eyes goggled at the beautiful half-Veela, immediately mesmerized (as usual). Harry nudged Ron at the leg subtlety, sending his hopeless mate a hint. Alerted, Ron gratefully turned back to Hermione with an innocent grin, but then stupidly blushed. Harry chuckled the second this epic slip began to "color", and barely bothered to fight off laughing as Ron, turning redder than ever, basically paraded his own red hand of guilt in plain view for his girlfriend — it was suicide. But however flustered by jealousy she grew, Hermione stayed silent, fixated on hardening her scowl until it had Ron looking maddened in fear.

Harry jumped in to try and be Ron's savior. "So, err...Big turn-out this year, I reckon!" But with an overly-deliberate stutter Harry forfeited the white flag straightaway too, his vaunted nervy tone almost as obvious and of definite no help to Ron.

In fact, Hermione was so unimpressed she even made a snort in front of a one one-word response. "Certainly," she said dryly, folding her arms at her chest. "A stunning sight, don't you think, Ronald?" Hermione's fury was radiant in her voice, almost tangible.

Ron flinched nervously. "Erm, uh, maybe — I dunno."

Lucky for him, Professor McGonagall stood up gracefully from the staff table for their attention. Confidently making clear command gestures with her arms and hands at the thousands before her, McGonagall had the kind of opening poise that welcomed in the full retrievable attention of a room very easily. Tonight she wore shiny solid-black robes professionally, and her auburn hair, expectedly tied in her trademark bun, looked colored-up for the occasion. Taking out her wand, she whispered, "Sonorus!" and then addressed the Great Hall. "Silence, please, everyone! Silence, students, staff, visitors alike, please suspend your private conversations so that I can address a few crucial concerns before we feast. Yes, so kindly do as I ask please; lend me your undivided attention, thank you! Please, students, allow me to get through a short speech so that we can alas enjoy the wonderful annual start-of-term feast!" McGonagall humored a beamy smile at all of them as she surveyed the grand scene. The loudness was somewhat slow to decrease at first, though, so the Hogwarts Headmistress more firmly reinforced herself. "Students, that's ENOUGH! It is time that you politely direct your undivided attention at me, please — now!" Accentuating her familiar warning tone cordially, McGonagall's very strict speaking voice pressed through to them, and an easy fifteen seconds later the thousands of chattering voices had all quieted with respective fear.

Then, with nodding grace Professor McGonagall cleared her throat and smiled universally again, holding her wand at her mouth to speak. "Students, new and old, I welcome you to Hogwarts for what I am determined to make the best school year yet in its whole thousand-year history! But, in order to do that, we as a body cannot forget to acknowledge these last three pinnacle years of spectacular history-making that now alas rests complete: Extraordinarily, yes, Lord Voldemort returned to flesh in July of 1995 and — oh, enough!" Distracted by the audience's echoing shudder of gasp and fright, all in reaction solely to the sound of His name of course, McGonagall, irritated, cried out scolding, "Fear for a name belongs in the disposition of only the weakest sort of wizard or witch!" The Headmistress shook her head in disapproval a short few times, looking chastising, and re-cleared her throat authoritatively. "…Enough, I say, enough! Anyhow, progressively he returned to the hail of his previous power. With increasingly less subtlety, the incarnation not of he a terrorizing nemesis, but rather of he, Lord Voldemort, the greatest-living, murderous master of the Dark Arts, was returning fast to power. By the summer of 1996, his presence "officially" became public...Now. I ask that we as one take a moment to remember the victims of Lord Voldemort— not of "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named", not of "You-Know-Who", not even of "Tom Marvolo Riddle", his birth-given name. Let us indeed have a moment to silently reflect upon, appreciate even, the immeasurable toll of mass murder, heinous destruction, unimaginable torture, all the acts of terrors committed and orchestrated by Lord Voldemort."

People again were shivering to the bone as if intense cold pervaded everywhere. But nonetheless, in this surreal, discomforted moment, respect, remembrance and acknowledgment absolutely palpated the vicinity. The inundated strength of everyone - their regarded feelings, contemplation, and the animation of their emoted faces - far exceeded the Headmistress' expectations. She nodded approvingly, and continued. "This year, my students, now that peace has been restored I will do my duty to re-perpetually honor the extraordinary scholastic spirit of my predecessor and old friend Albus Dumbledore. I therefore have decided to introduce the new school year with a declaration to togetherness, not separateness, to unity, not adversity. Yes, we are hour familiar Houses but foremost we are one school that mustn't cease to be magnificent now." Professor McGonagall imposed these (clearly) carefully selected words upon them strongly.

She took a long pause as she surveyed all the faces across the vast room to make sure she was resonating, an indication of her seriousness. Finally, Professor McGonagall took a long deep breath, then said, "Onto a happier matter, I'd like to introduce out brand-new Defense Against the Dark Arts post. Professor Delacour, if you'd please stand up!" she said in a very welcoming voice.

The stunning Fleur Delacour, beaming, stood up to awed voices across the room. A quite uplifted applause (unsurprisingly) followed, and then Professor McGonagall formally introduced her. "Ms. Delacour some of you may remember as one of the champions in the most recent Triwizard Tournament, which took place here at Hogwarts a few short years ago. I assure you she is a well-qualified, superb candidate for the position, and I expect that you'll all welcome her with open arms!"

Another round of applause commenced. Hermione looked daggers over at Ron immediately but he was smart enough to not participate in complimenting Fleur right now. Comically relieved by this, Harry unsympathetically teased Ron with a boisterous smile.

The Gryffindors, like every other preceding year, threw their own little party fiasco once sent to their dormitories after the feast concluded. After all, everyone was chipper now that they'd been positively reassured by the sight of the same familiar, perfectly happy beginning full of reunions and newly-forming friendships inspiriting Hogwarts as always. For returning students this was clearly the only acceptable beginning of a new Hogwarts year; indeed, it seemed to be a necessity for them which this year had been unexpected but fulfilled nonetheless! Yes, and everyone's moods more drastically uplifted as the night wore on, too; more so with every moment, thus forth this night was eradicated of its initialized, woeful atmosphere; hence, thereby (mostly) everybody was becoming, now, amazingly - happy. Nevertheless, Harry, sadly, privately continued to feel haunted by an inner monster's reminding about his now conscious disinterest in Ginny. And after a while, that torment was it for him. Enough was enough - Harry knew he needed to man-up and face disbanding his year-and-a-half (plus) of consistent romantic involvement with Ginny (in one form of another, anyway). It was too serious something to meddle with cold feet. Harry knew much better, was way better than that, and therefore pulled Ginny to side sometime during the Gryffindor Common Room's let-out fiasco to ask, "Hey Gin, we need to talk about something important...Could you stay after everyone goes to bed for me, please?" Harry was actually pretty impressed by the soothed, mature sound of his braving approach. He sounded good.

Ginny shook aback, somewhat blindsided at first, but quickly swung back in a very worried tone that filled Harry with sorrowful guilt, answering, "Sure, Harry, of course I will. No problem."

And that had been that. But, Harry couldn't have pre-imagined how extremely awkward every moment thereafter counting down to the last Gryffindor's bedtime felt in passing. It was torturous to endure as he tried to be surreptitious (and failed) about ignoring Ginny's eyes as well as Ron and Hermione's growingly suspicious pick-up (sort of, anyway) that something was the matter. Harry watched himself circle around with irresistible intent to stray aback in moderate, not-too-unsubtle isolation from all the socializing; right now everything but his loneliness seemed a threat of discomfort prone to conflict.

Finally, though, the crowds did disassemble and head to bed as the clock got closer to midnight. Once Hermione and Ron were the last to remain other than himself and Ginny, Harry, left no choice, went up to them reluctantly. With an almost entirely unwilling grunt he clued them in briefly. "Me and Ginny gave some major talking to do, mates. Explain later, alright? I reckon there's gonna be lots to tell, don't worry," Harry said meekly, an exasperated look worn on his face. Feeling unable to handle dealing with his best friends' separate reactions right now (especially Ron's); Harry stormed a considerable number of steps away fast before they could slow things further. However, though Harry in a second had intentionally turned the other direction, he was grateful to hear Ron and Hermione walking up the stairs to retire to their dormitories but a moment later. Harry, releasing a think deep breath, felt infinite relief in their apparent fast-handed decision to just trust his word for now.

They'll see soon enough, the whole (hopefully not too) devastated story will probably be broadcasting everywhere at breakfast tomorrow morning, anyway, I reckon, Harry mused cynically to himself. Shaking his head and rolling his eyes, he turned around, looking for Ginny, and was startled to see her waiting for him by the fireplace. Suddenly feeling a hundred times more nervous, he stumbled a few times as he walked over to sit with Ginny alas.

Harry rubbed his sweaty palms together anxiously, letting his shoulders slouch. Ginny was sitting across from him in the Common Room, staring at him contentiously with her hands flat on her lap. The fireplace was brandishing a warm, cozy fire, yet even so Harry felt a cold shudder overrun the room. It was late, almost midnight, and everyone else had gone to bed. The lone-mantled tension of this quiet scene was almost palpable as the discomfort between them increased, like a poison haze thicker and hostler in the air around them every second; all alive, the atmosphere hinging the two apparently had come infused with a flippant high-hand of inflammable emotion. Ginny and Harry were mendaciously looking at each other from opposite-facing chairs, their glowed eyes subsiding at each other's presence…

Inevitably, the two sank to a somewhat simultaneous gaze as the moment desolated and the two's deferral nonstop glaring waned. For all practical purposes really, in effect the two were colossally bulldozed, even if the overtaking antagonist at force was really just the grimace look of speechless discontentment returned from the other side of the fireplace. Thus, fallen to supersession, as the two adolescents sat adversely 'cross one another, seething to life a shivering diabolic nature, it is something like a 'quiet disquiet' recapitulated in the air...

Finally, Harry decided to speak first despite considerable self-uncertainty. Straightening up, he bravely made sure to look Ginny eye-to-eye sincerely, reproving a facade of confidence. Sighing, thereby Harry attempted to say as compassionately as possible, "Ginny, I wish everything could just go back to how it was before I left. Things were going so right back then, and I wish everything would just go automatically back to normal now that I'm back." He paused to shake his head slowly, bowing his head for a second, and then looked straight at her again, this time with a wearier expression. "But that's not how things are, no matter how much I hate it. I still love you, I do, more than anything I reckon, but I'm not so sure I'm 'in' love with you anymore. I'm sorry, really sorry Ginny; I blame myself that things between us aren't the same anymore. I mean that, Gin, honest..." Harry finished lamely, feeling vulnerable as ever.

Ginny glared deeply at him, fury stricken in her eyes. That demeanor didn't hold up long though. Reluctant tears squeezed out her eyelids and slowly started to fall down her sullen cheeks within a few moments. Embarrassed, Ginny turned away from Harry's sunken expression, rejecting his silent sympathies. Determined, she pretended to be subtle in wiping her tears, returned to look at Harry, and with a fixed, cold expression acidly replied, "Good of you to let me know. Now I can let Seamus know I'm available." She smiled sarcastically at him, raising her eyebrows suggestively, then jumped up and ran upstairs to her dormitory without another word.

Harry dropped his face into his hands, ashamed. Having his girlfriend back should've worked out great, yet it all just underwhelmed him. He didn't feel his heart skip or his stomach flip at the sight of Ginny anymore. There was instead this desolate feeling that stabbed his senses. Harry just wasn't in love with her anymore, plain and simple. What have I done? I reckon Ginny's gone absolutely mad already, he feared to himself. Staring uncertainly at the fire, Harry's brain was a melting vessel of confusion...

Draco sat with his knees folded against his chest on the floor in front of the molten fireplace, his arms wrapped around himself securely. Despite his close proximity to the fire, he was shivering to the bone. He was alone in the Common Room, gazing at the fiery blaze as the clock passed midnight. After being maimed all day over his pathetic father locked in Azkaban, right now Draco Malfoy felt shame and depression so horribly that he wished he could instead just be, well, dead...

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