Title: Becoming Us (Part 1)
Disclaimer: Disclaimer: All rights belong to J.K. Rowling. I do not claim any ownership of the characters or settings contained within. This story is for entertainment only and is not part of the official story line.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, Ron/Hermione
Warnings: Contains mature language and sexual content
Rating: M
Summary: Following the war, Harry Potter and friends return to Hogwarts to repeat their interrupted final year. To everyone's surprise Draco Malfoy returns as well, but something has changed. Harry learns the weighty consequences of being marked as a Death Eater and must decide whether to help Draco escape his past. Non-canon Dark Mark backstory
Author's Note: This is part 1 of 2 stories that follow Harry and Draco from the start of their 8th year to the culmination of their relationship. Please see Becoming Us (Part 2) for the rest of the story. Contains mature content and language.

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The war was over. It was an obvious fact, but worthy of note. The war was over, and had in fact been over for months. Deaths had been tallied, wounds had been healed, stories had been told, and now it was time for life to resume. The dark wizard Voldemort was dead, Hogwarts was nearly rebuilt, and the children were ready to return to school. It was time.

Harry Potter had considered not returning. Technically his education was complete, although his seventh and final year had been significantly disrupted by the war. So disrupted was the school year that Hogwarts had extended an invitation to all of the previous year's final year students to return at no cost for another chance at graduation. Harry wasn't tempted. He'd lost friends, lost loved ones, and he wondered if it was high time that he headed out into the wizarding world with the education he had, truncated though it was.

In the end it was Molly Weasley who convinced him to finish his final year, noting that he couldn't give up on his dream of becoming an Auror now. With his grades from the tumultuous last year, he wouldn't get accepted by the Academy any time soon. No, it would be best to return to Hogwarts for an eighth year, bring his grades up, and graduate with N.E.W.T scores that would be acceptable for any application.

Hermione was in full agreement, of course. But she would always support any recommendation that included more studying. Ron was also in full agreement, but he would always support whatever his girlfriend thought, lest she call a halt to the frequent and passionate snogging sessions she'd so recently introduced to their friendship.

Ginny was the only one who disagreed. She made it clear that she would prefer Harry simply fall off of the face of the earth rather than show his face at Hogwarts again. But that's what anyone who'd just been through a nasty breakup would say. Harry hadn't meant to hurt her, he hadn't really meant to get close enough to hurt her. But things sort of took on a momentum of their own and before he knew it she was talking about getting married after school was done. She hadn't taken Harry's offer to slow down well. And when she didn't take that offer well, he knew it was time to call it off. Which she took even less well. He could still feel the sting of her palm on his cheek.

When they boarded the train at Kings Cross Ginny split from their small group and headed to the front of the train. Knowing better than to follow her, Harry, Hermione, Ron headed to the back. They found an unoccupied compartment and slipped in as the train pulled away from the platform.

"Last time," Hermione whispered, tracing her fingertip across the fogged glass as the train picked up speed.

"Unless you're invited back for graduate levels," Ron reminded her.

"I probably wouldn't take the train," she mused. "No one takes the train beyond seventh year."

"Then I guess it is the last time," the corners of Ron's mouth drooped.

"We'll still be together, though," Harry pointed out. "Ron and I will get a flat together and we'll both enter the Academy at the same time. And you'll come visit between graduate studies," he added.

"You're right," she shook her head and sat up straighter. "No use romanticizing it. Our friendship goes beyond the Gryffindor common room." She smiled bravely, inspiring a mirrored smile in her enamoured boyfriend.

A motion out in the hall caught their attention. A shadow fell across the glass as someone approached from further down the train. A shock of white hair passed the first windowpane and the figure beneath paused momentarily at the door.

Draco Malfoy glanced in through the glass, eyes noting the occupants. The four seventh-year repeats gazed at each other silently, expressionlessly, before he moved on. Harry felt unsettled. Malfoy hadn't thrust open the door and shot a snide remark at him. He hadn't called him "Saint Potter." He hadn't called Ron "Weasel" and insulted his family. He hadn't sneered at Hermione about her muggle heritage. He hadn't looked inclined to do any of those things. He had barely registered before continuing on his way. Harry felt a strange sort of emptiness in his chest.

"Oh great, ferret face is back, too," Ron rolled his eyes as though he were in agony. "I can't believe they'd let him back in after what his family did."

"He was cleared by the Ministry," Harry reminded him.

"He's a Death Eater," Ron sneered. "Why would they let a Death Eater back into the school?"

"Technically he wasn't," Hermione spoke up. "He wasn't willingly marked. His parents offered him to you-know-who and Malfoy was forced to follow him. That's why he was cleared."

"Yeah I'm sure all that really bothered him, too," Ron folded his arms across his chest stubbornly and stared out of the window.

But Harry knew better. He had seen the conflict in Draco Malfoy, he had seen how the boy cried desperately when he showed Dumbledore his Dark Mark, as though threatening to kill him and begging for mercy in one breath. And he had seen Malfoy's reluctance to reveal Harry's identity to Bellatrix Lestrange, for reasons he still didn't quite understand.

None of that erased seven years of antagonism and bloody evil pranks. But it said something that he had come back. What that something was, Harry wasn't sure.