AN: So...I don't really have a whole lot to explain about this story, mainly because it has just grown into a little beastly thing. I have a direction I want to steer it, but I'm just going to let things flow for now. The rough outline will make itself known shortly, dear readers...

Disclaimer: I do not own J.K. Rowling's creations, I merely use them as puppets in my imagination.

"It's not like thinking about it is going to solve it." Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, right, left, right, swivel, left, right, left, pause. "No, nothing will come of thinking about it. It was a simple gesture." Pacing resumed, threads of the rug beneath socked feet being pushed in opposite directions. "Thinking about it will only lead to disaster. It just…never happened. Never. Happened."

A long sigh of defeat echoed across the empty stone chamber.

"It so happened."

It was their final year, their last hurrah in the rubble of a school they had all cherished so much. Magic had been futile in numerous attempts to restore the grandeur of Hogwarts, but the castle had taken too much of a beating from Dark spells and enchantments. The courtyards were nearly destroyed, towers left gaping holes in the castle's façade, but still students swarmed the Great Hall with smiles on their faces as the sun streamed through cracked stained glass.

"I can't believe we're actually back." Hermione Granger clung to the arm of Harry Potter as they crossed the threshold of the Great Hall, her eyes drinking in the familiar sights and strange battle scars of the school. "It's so surreal."

"It feels odd, to have just finished a war, but be back expecting classes." Harry turned to Ron Weasley, whose face had crumpled at the mention of academics.

"Can't even let a bloke enjoy a good month or two off, can you?" Ron groaned as they sank onto the seats at the Gryffindor table, its meager scarlet and gold tablecloth looking even more faded than before. Hermione just smiled and straightened her skirt to lay flat against her thighs. "I don't bloody buy it. Why'd they let this lot come back?" Ron gave a pointed glare to the string of Slytherins entering the Great Hall, timidly taking their places at their dining table.

"It's not their fault, Ron." Harry said softly, sipping a glass of pumpkin juice. "They are just children, after all."

"There are few distinct non-children." Hermione whispered audibly, her eyes drawn to the much larger figures at the back of the Slytherin formation. "Seventh Years."

"I'll kill him." Ron had risen to his feet, but his anger cowered beneath the warning glares of Harry and Hermione. "Bleeding hearts, that's all you are. Malfoy nearly got all of us killed, if you don't remember!"

"And he almost died too, so sit down." Hermione argued hotly, her knuckles glowing white against her skin. Harry placed a calming hand on her arm and she exhaled slowly, shooting one last glance over her shoulder at the man across the Great Hall. "And his name is Draco."

He could feel the pity seeping from every pore around him. People in his house were sneaking uncertain glances at him when they thought he wasn't looking, trying to fit him into the puzzle that was the disembodied Seventh Year class. He was supposed to be, had risen to be, and by all accounts held all rights to be the leader of Slytherin House.

But he was a coward, a weakling, and a coddled mother's boy. He was nothing compared to the boy he had been before, he knew nothing now of fame, power, or glory. He was disgraced, disowned, and disgusting. His family had been shunned, cut off from the affluence they had known for so long. His father had given up, resorting to a life locked away in his ivory mansion where he wandered as aimlessly as the albino peacocks on the front lawn. His mother, tormented by the smell of death forever lingering in her nostrils, took to the spirits with a passion, glassy eyes reliving the horrors of dead children strewn across a courtyard at the feet of their old master.

He was plagued by nightmares, fever sweats, and the paranoia of someone constantly trying to catch him. He knew his old master had been defeated, swept away in the wind as pieces of ash, but he could feel that face hovering right behind him, those eyes boring holes into the back of his skull. He could feel the cool lips whispering words of doom against the flesh on the nape of his neck. His service haunted him wherever he went, his entire body chained to a past he wished he had never lived.

"Didn't expect to see you back here." Theodore Nott slid into the seat beside Draco Malfoy with the same exhausted expression. "Mother told me you weren't coming back."

"I had to choose the lesser of two prisons." Draco mumbled back, propping his elbow on the table while sipping from his goblet. His eyes swept the room, locking in on the triumphant trio. Something inside him shuddered and he looked away, the feeling of self-hatred creeping into his cranium once more.

"Well, cheers." Theodore lifted his goblet to clink lightly against Draco's. "Looks like we have the run of the roost."

"It's all yours." Draco lifted gracefully off the bench and, in a swirl of robes reminiscent of his godfather, strode from the Great Hall. His feet carried him across the small piles of rubble at the tops of staircases, past the towers gutted by spells, through doors that had been blown off their hinges. He climbed steps that had cracked or were missing chunks, finally reaching his place of solitude. He sank onto the wooden floor, leaning against the cool stone column behind him as the wind brushed his hair from his face. Even he could appreciate the irony here. This was where he was supposed to kill Dumbledore.

A prison within a prison.

"This is perfect." Harry grinned as he stretched out on the couch in their Common Room. "Only four classes a week, with every Friday off!"

"The schedule is nowhere near strict enough." Hermione whined as she stared unhappily at the five books in her bag. "I had expected a little bit more than this."

"Oh hush." Ron swatted at her shoulder and cheerfully bit into a biscuit. "I'm with Harry. Four classes is amazing."

"I guess they are low on staff." Hermione mused as she crossed her arms over her chest. "And there aren't many Seventh Years."

"Just fourteen, I believe. Hufflepuff brought back six. That's unbelievable." Harry shook his head and sighed. "Slytherin has just the two."

"Nott and Malfoy. Can't believe either of them bothered to show their faces here again." Ron snarled. Hermione rolled her eyes.

"Nott's the only one alive from his family and Malfoy is the only one with a working brain right now in his. Honestly, you two should read the Daily Prophet more, even if it's about them." Hermione got up from the couch, gathering her books and moving to the stairs that led to the room she no longer had to share. "And stop being so insensitive. You're not the only people who lost a loved one in the war."

AN: Please be kind and leave a review...