Chapter Two

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"Well, she's bloody lost it." Ron mutters, darting out in front of Harry's path, nearly tripping him as he narrowly avoids a scowling Pansy Parkinson's elbow. Harry's eyes follow the ebony-haired girl as she continues to push through the crowd of ambling eighth-years, his lips quirking upwards into a faint smirk at Hermione's mutter of "Watch it," that falls on stubbornly deaf ears.

Parkinson's return to Hogwarts had been unexpected as well, prompting her own thin cloud of cold side-eyes and hushed little whispers stemming from the lips of hollow-chested students, their darkened gazes sifting through the hum of bodies to pick out the returning Slytherins with the same hard, unmerciful mask that Voldemort's supporters had once directed towards them. The tail-end of whispers had tickled Harry's ears as his fingers picked at the chipping wood varnish at the end of the Gryffindor table, illuminated by hundreds of floating candles bobbing throughout the air and the faint sparkle of stars from the transfigured ceiling, spoke of a practically unanimous suspicion of the return of so many Slytherins. He'd had to look twice at the table upon settling down with his little bubble, Neville and Luna accompanying them as well, at the perfectly normal look to the Slytherin table, before his own shock and mild suspicion melted away into a prickly itch of guilt he tried to shove as far down his stomach as he could.

The war was over. Harry had killed Voldemort himself, watched as his face crumbled into flakes of grey ash, contorting in a vaguely humanesque shape before plummeting to the ground, never quite reaching the dust-coated soil of Hogwarts before the bitter wind whisked them away, scattering across the Earth forever. It was supposed to be over, cemented by the scarlet and black robes of incoming Aurours descending upon the ruins of the school, stunning the remaining Death Eaters who tried to run and sweeping them away in a flurry of crackled aspirations, permanently erased by the kiss; all expect one which is own mouth had saved.

But the suddenly very small-looking form of the last of the Death Eaters, Draco Malfoy, hunched over his empty plate, his once pristinely kept silver-white hair hanging in front of his downcast eyes, fingers red and blotchy from the flurry of stinging hexes that no professor had cared enough to glance twice at; spoke of the real truth. The war was not over. Instead, it's morphed and rebirth like a phoenix does, become something entirely new yet all too painfully the same in a burst of white-hot flames, it's new ashes just barley beginning to settle; floating across the sky in imaginary twirls and flutters, and Harry wonders if perhaps this time these new ashes might manage to make it to his feet.

The Slytherin table was as plump as all the other houses, which only showed the scars left by the Battle of Hogwarts through small scattered patches of space between students where once warm and bright-eyed bodies had sat and laughed with them. It carried the false mask of the pre-school year jitters and excitement, the perfectly sculpted smiles and eyes that only looked dark when you weren't supposed to be looking, save for its superficial anomaly: the patch of space at the very end of the table, the same end that Harry and his friends sat across in, devoid of life save for the Death Eater's uncharacteristically quiet form.

"She's bloody lost it!" Ron's voice drifts somewhere behind the violent sea waves crashing in his ears. An elbow gently knocking against Harry's own effectively pulls him back to the present. The slow moving sea of eighth-years is a warm, unwelcome cocoon of dim heat around him. Green eyes catch no hint of snow-white hair drifting amongst the hum of white noise. Harry can't explain the emptiness he feels at that, nor can he explain the harsh tides and rolls of his stomach, hollow despite him eating twice his fill of treacle tart. Ron's elbow knocks against his once more.

"Alright mate?" Ron asks. Hermione frowns when he nods, still a little dazed.

"Are you sure? You were zoning out again Harry, throughout the entire meal almost." She says.

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