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Chapter One - A Risky Return


I am awakened by the sound of the train screeching on the track as it comes to a halt. I'm surprised I was even able to nap, much less stay asleep for nearly the entire ride. I haven't been sleeping much these days.

I look out the window, catching a glimpse of the castle lingering behind the treetops as we pull into the train station. Its towers are lit up, shining brightly against the navy blue evening sky. It's beautiful - tranquil, even - yet I'm still nervous and jittery. It's pathetic, really. This is my seventh and final time arriving at Hogwarts. You'd think I'd be over my anxiety of going to school by this point.

As if. There's a slim chance of that ever happening, especially now.

The train comes to a complete stop, and I stand to retrieve my trunk from the overhead rack. There's a couple of first years already walking by outside my compartment, talking excitedly about their upcoming Sorting. For their sake, I hope their experience with the Sorting Hat turns out better for them than it did for me.

My sorting was exactly six years ago, yet I still remember it as if it were yesterday…

"Ross, Emmaleigh!" Professor McGonagall calls.

I was anxious before, but not anymore. I've met some really nice people on the train. Lots of them are first years, too. Susan and Mandy, the girls I shared a compartment with, are incredibly sweet. A boy my age helped me stow my trunk overhead before shaking my hand and introducing himself as Ernie. I even met some people – Dean, Justin, Lisa, and Hermione – who are Muggleborn, like me. There were those funny, red-haired twins who said they were starting their third year. Even before I stepped onto the train, my trolley collided with one owned by a boy named Harry; he was incredibly nice about it, even though the crash resulted in his owl's cage becoming dislodged and rolling away.

I climb up the couple of stairs that lead to the Sorting Hat. I heard about this from some fellow students. All I have to do is wear the hat and it will tell me where I belong. I even learned a bit about the houses from Susan, too.

As I sit down on the stool, I can see Hermione and Harry smiling at me from the Gryffindor table. That clumsy boy, Neville, is there too. Justin and Susan are already seated with their fellow Hufflepuffs, and they both wave at me. Mandy gives me a thumbs-up from her spot at the Ravenclaw table.

The second Professor McGonagall places the hat on my head, I can hear it talking to me, whispering so only I can hear it.

"Well, well, isn't this interesting…" it says. "Aren't you just a mix of everything? Wise like a Ravenclaw, loyal like a Hufflepuff, brave like a Gryffindor…"

"And I'll take any of them," I think to myself with a smile, waiting for the hat to shout one out to everyone in the Great Hall.

"Let me finish, young Emmaleigh," the hat says. My smile fades. I didn't know the hat could hear what I was thinking. "There's a bit of Slytherin in you, too."

"Slytherin?" I think. "What do you mean? If there's one house I don't belong in, it's Slytherin!"

"And what makes you say that?" asks the Sorting Hat.

"Well, I'm a Muggleborn."

"Are you now?"

"Yes!" I'm getting nervous now. Everyone I've befriended is either in Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw. I just have to be in one of those! "There's no such thing as a Muggleborn Slytherin. They're all half-bloods at the very least!"

"That's why it pains me to have to put you there. I know you'll have some hard times."

"Then don't put me there! Please, put me in one of the other three. My friends are there! Please, anything but Slytherin!"

The hat sighs. "You are a sweet girl, Emmaleigh. I can tell you will grow up to do magnificent things. But for now, you'll have to trust me. There's a reason for this. Someday, you'll understand why you belong in SLYTHERIN!"

The hat shouts that last part. Slytherin. The table on the far right of the hall erupts with applause as my heart plunges to the ground. I look around at the other three tables and the small group of kids in front of me still awaiting their sorting, and everyone who I've met has their mouth open in shock. I feel like crying.

"Miss Ross," Professor McGonagall says as she lifts the hat from my head, "please join your classmates at the Slytherin table."

I nod and get up, but my heart is not in it. I drag my feet as I walk over to the cheering Slytherins waiting for me. I take a seat, and everyone quiets down as the next student is sorted.

I still think about that day often. Before we all entered the Great Hall, Professor McGonagall told myself and the rest of my classmates that our houses would be like our families while at school. I'm not sure how that worked out for everyone else, but in my eyes, she couldn't have been more wrong. The Sorting Hat said that I'd eventually understand why I belonged in Slytherin. Well, it's been six years, and I still have no bloody clue.

This wasn't to say I haven't had any friends at school. I still got on with the people I met who were in the other three houses, and I always had someone to sit with in class or join up with on Hogsmeade weekends. Things got even better in fifth year when Dumbledore's Army started; unsurprisingly, I was the only Slytherin in it. Overall, my time at Hogwarts has been enjoyable.

But, when the evenings came and I had no choice but to retreat to Slytherin House, I would silently curse the Sorting Hat. I've spent the last six years feeling like an outcast in my own dormitory. Sure, my housemates liked me for a while until they found out I was Muggleborn. Then, I became known as the filthy Mudblood who tainted their flawless house, a disease that had to be avoided at all costs. I mean, really, what was that dumb hat thinking? It must have made a careless mistake. Everyone knows Slytherin is a Muggleborn-free house. Well, was, anyway.

But what's done is done. I'm in Slytherin. I don't like it, but I've accepted it.

The corridor outside of my compartment fills up a bit more with chattering students as I linger behind, digging through my trunk. I locate my black robe and green and silver tie and put them both on. I push my hair behind my shoulders to make sure the Slytherin patch is in plain sight. For the first time in my life, I am going to wear it proudly. Pretend to, rather. I take a deep breath and exit the compartment to join my fellow classmates.

There are officials from the Ministry on the platform, as expected. I probably won't have a problem getting past them, but I make sure I have my documentation ready just in case.

A middle-aged, greasy, heavy-set man is the one who inspects me. He looks and smells like he hasn't showered in months, but I suppose I can't expect much more than that from the Ministry in these times. As predicted, his eyes immediately dart to the patch on my robe.

"Slyth'rin, eh?" he says in a scruffy voice.

"Yes, sir."

"Not t'be offensive, Miss, but I 'ave to check yer papers jus' to be safe. New protocol, ye see."

"Of course," I say with my best attempt at sincerity. I hand him my forged documentation.

He looks it over, titling it slightly to see the embedded Ministry logo that can only be seen at precise angle. "Half-blood?"

"Yes." Pretending to be a pureblood would have been too risky, not to mention nearly impossible.

He smirks. "You mus' take pride in th' magical aspect of yer heritage, bein' in Slyth'rin."

I nod and smile back, but say nothing.

He hands me back my papers. "'ave a good school year, Miss Ross."

"Thank you, sir," I say, taking my papers and walking past the Ministry official to the carriages. I make a mental note to tell Fred and George that their nifty charm work on the documentation did the trick. Bless their hearts. If I had done it myself, it wouldn't have been believable and I probably would have been arrested on the spot. I'm absolute rubbish at charms.

I suspect if I had been in any other house, I would have undergone further inspection to prove my blood status and be allowed back to Hogwarts. For once, my being in Slytherin is a benefit. Lucky me.

I can't help but notice how much emptier the carriages are this year, what with the lack of Muggleborns and the students whose families have fled the country. Usually, there's ten or more students sharing one, yet here I am in one huge carriage with only one fourth-year from Hufflepuff and a couple of nervous-looking second-years.

As the carriage rattles down the cobblestone path leading to the castle, I realize how lonely this year will be. I yearn for the company of any of my friends. Some will have returned, I'm sure, but I know people like Justin and Dean won't be back. Harry, of course, is on the run with Ron and Hermione. I play with my D.A. coin in my pocket. It hasn't been used since fifth year, but having it gives me hope - hope that they'll send me some sort of sign that they're safe and well.

The carriage pulls up to the front of the Entrance Hall, and I step off after the other three occupants have. As I approach the opened doors, however, I'm stopped by Professor Flitwick.

"Welcome back, Miss Ross," he squeaks. He looks surprised to see me, probably because he knows I'm a Muggleborn, but doesn't say anything about it. "You're instructed to go to the Headmaster's Office straight away. The password is 'beaming bowtruckle.'"

My heart sinks. I don't want to go there, not when it isn't Dumbledore's office anymore. I don't want to see Snape.


No wonder he wants to see me. He knows my true blood status, too. He's probably going to hand me over to the Ministry. I wonder if there's a way I can contact the Order for help…

"Everything will be fine, Miss Ross," Professor Flitwick says. He must have sensed my panic. He offers me a kind smile as he gestures for me to enter the castle.

I make a feeble attempt to smile back. "Thank you, Professor."

My heart thunders against my ribcage all the way to the Headmaster's Office. I've only been in it once. It was fifth year, and Dumbledore had called a meeting with all of the new prefects. I remember how sullen Pansy was once she found out I had been chosen over her. It's one of my very few fond memories from the Slytherin Common Room.

"Beaming bowtruckle," I say as I approach the giant phoenix statue. The stairs emerge, which I climb slowly, trying to postpone this meeting with Snape as much as possible.

The doors are wide open once I reach the top of the stairs, giving me a clear view of Dumbledore's murderer. Snape was sitting at Dumbledore's desk, in Dumbledore's chair, surrounded by Dumbledore's things. It was sickening, and my stomach churned at the sight. Maybe it's a good thing Harry isn't here this year; he would have killed him.

I'm surprised to see that Draco Malfoy is also in the office. He's leaning against one of the many bookcases with his arms crossed over his chest. He looks irritated, as if he had something better to do, somewhere better to be. I must admit I agree with him for once.

"Ah, Miss Ross. You've finally elected to grace us with your presence," Snape sneers.

I narrow my eyes at him. "Good evening, Professor," I say coolly. I nod towards Draco. "Malfoy."

He nods back. "Ross."

"Now that that's done," Snape says in an aggravated tone, "I have something for both of you. Approach."

Draco and I walk over to the desk as Snape pulls out a small, wooden box that he unlocks with his wand. Inside of it are two flat pieces of gold shaped like shields. He hands one to me and one to Draco. Upon closer inspection, I can make out an engraving on mine: Head Girl.

I look at Snape. "I don't understand."

He raises an eyebrow. "Can you not read, Miss Ross?"

I ignore his snide remark. "Why me?"

I really am curious. Snape has hated me since day one; I suppose associating with people who are as far away from the Dark Side as possible overrides the fact that I'm in his house and do well in his class. I understand why he chose Draco for Head Boy, but choosing me makes no sense at all.

"You both are no doubt aware of the latest Ministry regulations," he says. "You two are the seventh year Slytherin prefects. As Slytherin house is and always has been a symbol of everything the Ministry and the Dark Lord stand for, the choice was obvious. Believe me, Miss Ross, had it been completely my decision, I would have stripped you of your prefect title and given it to a more worthy Slytherin."

I stare at him coldly, but say nothing.

"Now," Snape continues, "as Head Boy and Girl, you will no longer be dwelling in the Slytherin dormitories. Your new quarters are located on the fourth floor behind the statue of Robin the Ruthless. Point your wand into the palm of his right hand to access the door to your rooms. Dinner will be brought up to you once you arrive. Now, leave me be. I have other matters to attend to that are less pathetic." And with that, Snape spins his chair around so that his back is to us.

Draco and I share a brief glance before we leave the office. We walk in silence to the fourth floor. The two of us never liked each other, much less had anything to say to one another. There's no reason to try to meddle with that now. We can inhabit in our new dormitory with each other for this one year only and then move on with our lives.

It is Draco who presses his wand to Robin the Ruthless's palm. The giant statue moves to the right, and I can see a small mahogany door. He opens it, revealing an elegant sitting room with a table and two cozy-looking sofas. There are two doors on either side of the room, which undoubtedly lead to the bedrooms. Without a word, Draco walks into the bedroom on the left, slamming the door behind him.

"Charming," I mutter under my breath.

I proceed to check out my own room. It's not much different from my dormitory in Slytherin House. There's the traditional four-poster bed, a desk, a dresser, and a wardrobe. The only major change is the absence of the other four beds and the wenches that occupied them. I should be pleased about this. For the past six years, I've wanted nothing more than to be away from my Slytherin roommates, but standing here in my own, grand room makes me feel oddly lonely.

I'm still holding the badge that Snape gave me. I look down at it, feeling a twinge of guilt. This badge should have been Hermione's. Everyone in our year knows she was destined to be Head Girl. I know there's no possible way she could have returned to Hogwarts this year, but it still feels wrong to be in possession of the title she deserved to have. I toss the badge across the room, not bothering to pay attention to where it lands.

Seeing that my trunk is already in place at the edge of my bed, I know I should begin to unpack and sort my things. Instead, I lazily crash down onto my bed. I hear one door slam after another outside of my room, and I roll my eyes. Draco is probably going to visit his cronies in the Slytherin Common Room. Fine by me. I don't want to be around that arrogant bastard anymore than I do the rest of my housemates.

Harry is the only one from the Rebellion who knows I've returned to school. Everyone else thinks I've gone into hiding, like the rest of the Muggleborns; even Fred and George only think I asked for help forging my documentation at the beginning of summer in case I was ever caught on the run. I suppose going into hiding probably would have been the wisest thing for me to do, but I couldn't. I just couldn't sit around and simply wait for something to happen. Harry needs help, and out of everyone in the D.A., I'm the least likely to be under scrutiny thanks to my house.

It's actually because of the D.A. that I befriended Harry and, by extension, Ron and Hermione. Mind you, we were always acquaintances who greeted one another and made small talk in class, but fifth year was when I really began to call him my friend. Always attempting to delay my return to Slytherin House, I often lingered after our meetings. Naturally, he and I got into talking, and we grew pretty close after a while.

Harry tried to discourage me from returning to Hogwarts, but I wouldn't have it. He is convinced that there is a Horcrux somewhere in the castle, or at the very least some clues to help him find the rest. While I'm here, I can help the Rebellion by trying to scrounge up any information I can about Voldemort's past. I have absolutely no idea what to look for or where to begin. I haven't even quite figured out how I'm going to contact Harry in the even that I do find something. He was on the run before we could discuss that part.

As I lay here, the confidence I gained from getting past both the Ministry official and Snape starts to fade, and the worry seeps in. I knew what the risks were when I decided to do this, but I knew it was worth it. I still know it's worth it. Even though I've prepared well for this task, I'm still concerned. I could get caught at any given moment if I step out of line or make one wrong move. What if I'm found out? What if I get caught communicating with members of the Rebellion? What if someone is able to prove with absolute certainty that I'm Muggleborn? What would they do to me?

For the thousandth time tonight, I long to talk to any of my friends. Dean, Lisa, Susan, Terry, Mandy, Ernie…

No, not Ernie. Not anymore.

I really don't have anyone this year. If I want to avoid suspicion, I can't be seen talking kindly with anyone outside of my own house. There's not a doubt in my mind that Ginny or Neville will want to get the D.A. back together again, and it pains me that I can't be a part of it anymore. I hope they'll figure out why, and I hope they'll understand.

It's strange, but all of a sudden, I wish I could talk to my mother. I wonder what she would think of what I'm doing, if she would think I'm being noble or reckless. Maybe she'd give me some of that motherly reassurance that everything will turn out for the best. I just want to hear her voice. I know this will never happen, though. She's been dead for as long as I've been alive.

Is it possible to miss someone you never really knew? Sometimes I feel like I do miss my mother, but what's there to miss? I have no memories of her. My Aunt Maggie, my mother's older sister, is the one who raised me. She hasn't told me a whole lot about my mother; they loved each other, but being five years apart, they were never exactly close, so my aunt probably doesn't have all that many stories to share. All I know is that my mom became pregnant when she was nineteen, had a troubled pregnancy, and was twenty when she had me. Twenty when she died.

The thought that I'm to blame plagues me even though I know it's not true. I know my mother's death wasn't my fault, but sometimes I can't help but think that if it wasn't for me, she'd still be alive and well. No one seems to know much about my father, other than he was some guy my mother met while at school, so I must have been a mistake. Maybe I was never supposed to be here.

Now I think about the fact that I'm not even supposed to be here this year. If things go wrong and I'm caught, they'll interrogate me for sure. They could use the Cruciatus, or even Veritaserum. Will I end up giving up the whereabouts of the Weasleys, Tonks, Lupin, and the rest of the Order? Will I confess the purpose of Harry's mission? How many lives am I putting in jeopardy by simply being in a place I'm forbidden to be?

I suddenly sit up and put my face in my hands. I'm going crazy already. Deciding I need to get out of this dim room and get some fresh air, I leave my room, ignoring the two untouched plates on the table in the sitting room. I forgot about dinner. I'm not very hungry tonight, anyway, so I wave my wand and make my plate vanish. I leave Draco's just in case, but he's probably having a feast elsewhere with his Dark Side friends. For a second, I feel oddly jealous about this - not that he's in association with the Dark Side, but that he has people he can go hang out with if he wants.

Once I leave the room and Robin the Ruthless is back in his place, I begin my trek through the halls. Back at home, whenever I've needed to go somewhere to be alone, I always went to Jenkins Park. It's not even much of a park, really - just a couple of swings and some benches. As it's right around the corner from where we live, I would sneak out at night and go lay in the grass to look at the stars. I love stargazing. It relaxes me, soothes me, gives me hope. Since Jenkins Park isn't an option here, I use the Astronomy Tower. It has more than sufficed over the past six years when I needed a sanctuary, and I suspect I'll be making quite a few visits over the coming months.

The only door leading to the small, winding staircase to the top of the tower is ajar, and I don't think too much of it as I proceed to climb the stairs. I'm just about to reach the top and round the corner to the observing area when I hear a voice. A boy's voice. A very familiar boy's voice.

Draco's voice.

"I just…I can't do it anymore…" he says. "I don't want to do it anymore. I never did. I hate them all…"

I peek around the corner, and what I see shocks me. Draco is leaning against the railing, facing the Black Lake and talking to no one. He is shaking slightly, and though he is not crying, I can see old tear stains on his face. I've never seen him look so vulnerable, so pained, so real. He looks up toward the sky and continues to talk. His voice is shaky and sounds as if he's on the verge of tears again.

"Some people say you're up there, and if you are, please help me. I know I haven't been a good person, but I can't do this anymore. I don't want to hurt anyone…" Draco breaks down into a sob and mutters something that vaguely sounds like "please."

My better judgment tells me to walk back down the stairs and pretend I hadn't seen anything. But something stops me. I can only assume he was referring to the Death Eaters when he was speaking, and if that's the case, he's alone, too. He's like me. I can't leave him.

I breath in deeply and step around the wall, walking slowly and cautiously toward him.


Author's Note: The course of this story will be told in the perspectives of both Emmaleigh and Draco. Draco will narrate the next chapter, and it will proceed to alternate between the two.

Thanks for reading! :)

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