Sense of Belonging

Chapter 30

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter (that magic belongs to J.K. Rowling).

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With everything that had happened, including the two new attacks and Dumbledore being removed, as well as the upcoming exams, a somber mood fell over the Hogwarts grounds. Everyone had settled into the routine of homework, sleeping, eating, repeat. Only a few of the students appeared mildly cheerful, including Draco who was proud of his father's success.

"I told you he thinks Dumbledore's the worst Headmaster the school's ever had. Maybe we'll get a decent Headmaster now. Someone who won't want the Chamber of Secrets closed…" This was followed by her brother's not-so-subtle kiss-up attempts to Professor Snape, suggesting the greasy-haired professor should be the new Headmaster. Izzy had not been paying much attention, too focused on Hermione's empty seat during their usual potions lesson with the Gryffindors.

Despite asking nearly every day, Isabelle was still not allowed to visit the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey had clarified that no one was allowed in for fear that the attacker would be back to finish off their victims. But Izzy was using the excuse that she merely wanted to help with potions again rather than the true reason: she wanted to be sure Hermione was okay. Perhaps that was why she kept failing.

Iz also hated being herded around by the teachers from class to class. She could only go to the library with special permission and Madam Pince had to walk her back to the Slytherin dormitory every time. Not much had come from the research in the newspapers besides for further claims of what her parents may or may not have done. There was little to no concrete evidence as to whether they had actually supported You-Know-Who or not. (Focusing only on her parents' names, she had completely missed the reason her mother's sister was in Azkaban.) By her third evening sifting through the archives, the young Malfoy had given up on answering the question. She would just have to wait to go home for the summer holidays and try to find the storage room again.

Under these circumstances, the second-year Slytherin was struggling to survive on her own. Izzy had begun purposefully avoiding Draco now as much as possible. Besides for the fact that he continued to distract her from studying, he had become quite bold and annoying. As the House was stuck together every day, all the time, it was easy to get on each other's nerves.

With their father's success in removing Dumbledore, Draco fell back into his "king of the hill" attitude. He started bossing the first-years around again, making one even polish his broomstick. He demanded older students' attention and coerced some to help him with his homework. But worst of all, at least to his sister, Draco returned to making blood-purity jokes every other minute. Isabelle could not stand hearing him say how he hoped the Chamber of Secrets would stay open. He had even bet five Galleons that one of the "Mudbloods" would die in the next attack. Izzy hated seeing him act this way and honestly could not tell if it was just a plea for more attention or if he really believed everything he said.

Without her brother to distract her, Iz returned to her routine of studying for exams. This got lonely, though, as she was used to being with Hermione and Jett in the library. Because she could not leave the Slytherin common room, Hermione was lying petrified in the Hospital Wing, and Jett was in Gryffindor, the two unpetrified girls utilized their owls to send notes back and forth at opposite ends of the castle. Though it was not the same as hanging out together, it made up for some of the isolation the dark-haired Malfoy was feeling. (She felt bad for Russet, who had to fly all the way down to the common room every time – and when Jett was especially bored, they could send as many as twenty notes in one evening!)

Being with the Slytherins all the time was also draining on the dark-haired Malfoy. She felt she was going slowly mad as she had little access to the library, to her best friends, and no new books (wizarding or Muggle) to keep her entertained between sessions of intense studying. Iz had begun practicing dueling stances with Daphne and even a little sparring but the other Slytherin was never really interested nor good at it. It seemed there were never any quiet places to study, either. The common room was always full and her dorm room had been taken over by queen-wanna-be.

Isabelle had had enough one evening when Pansy was purposefully being obnoxious with her wizarding magazines, distracting Daphne, Tracey, and Millicent as well. Deciding to take action, Iz had jinxed her suitemates' nail polish to never dry. It was a lame prank, Izzy later admitted to Jett, but it was all she could think up in the moment. (Pansy had become extremely frustrated when she could not go to bed without ruining her newly-painted nails.) A few tricks later, the spiky-haired Slytherin had figured out who was responsible and began to retaliate. With Jett's involvement and suggestions to Iz, the second-year Slytherin girls' dorm room became a hazardous war-zone.

Yet, by the end of May, Isabelle was tiring of the jokes and had found that even potions class brought her little joy. There had been no further attacks and the teachers had begun to loosen up about the fear of the school closing. Yet, there was still a tenseness in the school's atmosphere. It was less than a week until exams and many of the students seemed to finally realize that they would, in fact, be taking the tests.

The morning of May 29th brought good and bad updates. Izzy had come down to breakfast with the first group of Slytherins, per usual, and was just finishing her oatmeal when Professor McGonagall stood to make an announcement.

"I have good news," the Transfiguration professor began with a slight smile. Instead of falling silent as expected, the students erupted with questions and excitement.

"Dumbledore's coming back!" A few called joyfully.

"You've caught the heir of Slytherin!" One of the Ravenclaw's guessed.

"Quidditch matches are back on!" The Gryffindor Quidditch House team's captain, Oliver Wood, exclaimed excitedly.

"Exams are cancelled!" Blaise Zabini yelled hopefully. After a pause and pointed look towards the Slytherin table at such a suggestion, McGonagall continued.

"Professor Sprout has informed me that the Mandrakes are ready for cutting at last. Tonight, we will be able to revive those people who have been Petrified. I need hardly remind you all that one of them may well be able to tell us who, or what, attacked them. I am hopeful that this dreadful year will end with our catching the culprit."

Cheering engulfed the Great Hall, including many of the Slytherins who were ready to not be blamed for the horrible incidents. Iz clapped along with the others, happy to hear that Hermione would be okay. Glancing at her brother across the table, she was confused to find Draco looking so unhappy. Before she could ask him the reason, the Interim Headmistress had begun speaking again.

"I would also like to add that teachers will still be escorting you to your classes. Until we are sure that Hogwarts is secure, these measures will remain in place." With a small grumble of discontent in response by the students, the Great Hall returned to its normal state of breakfast.

"Something wrong, Draco?" Isabelle asked, sounding more curious than genuinely concerned. Her brother looked up, his grey eyes meeting her hazel ones.

He gave a slight huff in a dramatic sort of way before stating, "Yes. That means that Dumbledore will be coming back. And all of Father's work will have been for nothing."

"I suppose so. But at least the people in the Hospital Wing will be cured?" Iz offered hopefully, but knowing what her brother's response would be.

"So what? They're all Mudbloods, they shouldn't even be allowed to come here. Father told me in his last letter that he wants to introduce a new amendment to the school policy where students have to /prove/ their bloodline before they can go to school here." Draco continued in a struck-up fashion, echoing Lucius' tone. He slammed the letter which presumably held their father's words on the table before huffing again and grabbing an orange.

Isabelle bit her tongue so as not to respond too rashly. She knew her brother was egging her on, like he wanted them to fight. Though she narrowed her eyes slightly at him, she replied diplomatically, "Then we will see if Father is successful or not."

Obviously dissatisfied with his sibling's answer, Draco turned back to her first with a frown and then with a slight smirk. There was something else he had forgotten to mention. "Well, I'm glad you think so. By the way, Mother lied to us."

"About?" Izzy asked, trying to seem disinterested, knowing the opposite would only encourage the blonde-haired boy.

"About you having more magical power than me. I asked Father last week because I didn't believe it and he said it wasn't true. We never even took a test! So Mother lied to us." Draco smiled proudly at his sister, picking up the letter to wave it at her as if mockingly.

"Well, it doesn't matter. It's still true – I'm better than you."

"Not according to Father. He says you just study hard, but /I/ have more magical talent."

"You do not."

"Do too." Isabelle was ready to push her brother's face into his oatmeal, her temper boiling up. How could their mother lie to them like that? How could their father believe Draco was better, when she outperformed him in every class at Hogwarts? Did their parents like Draco better than her? She would not allow herself to go down that path.

"Then what's the secret? If Mother told us a lie, surely Father told his /favorite/ what the secret is?" Izzy countered, betting that Draco still did not know. And even if he did, then Iz would find out too. At her brother's annoyed facial expression, however, the younger sibling knew she had found a weak spot. "Or not?"

"No. He said that it's Mother's decision to tell us." Draco replied, still obviously upset that Lucius had denied him a further edge over his sister. What was even so important about this secret anyways?

"Fine. See? You don't know everything." Isabelle retorted with a slight sneer, glad to momentarily kick him off his high-horse. She stood suddenly and climbed over the bench. Turning to go to the other end of the Slytherin table to finish breakfast before their classes, she turned back for one final word. "And don't worry, I'll prove next week that I'm still better than you."

Izzy left the conversation at that and avoided her brother for the rest of the day. Or, as best she could. They had all of their classes together and it was a struggle to not continue their fight. But by the second lesson, Iz found she was not really that mad at Draco – he was just being his usual, stuck-up self, after all. She was actually upset with Narcissa. How could she lie to them? Again? And how had she not realized it? Isabelle could sense that her mother was hiding something. First the whole incident about the heir of Slytherin, then the secrets in the hidden storage room, and now this. What could be so devastating?

Driven by her curiosity and rage, Iz wrote a lengthy letter to her mother demanding to know everything. She repeated the lies that had been told, the proof in Lucius' letters that they were made up. She wrote again about the conversations she had overheard at the Manor. She included the things she had found in the newspaper articles, however limited, and asking once more if they had supported the Dark Lord. And Isabelle ended the letter with the one question she could not get out of her mind: Did her parents love Draco more than her?

Not even paying attention to which class she was supposed to be following the other Slytherins to next, the younger Malfoy sibling slipped away from the group to go up to the Owlery on the top of the West tower. Izzy knew that she had to send the letter that second or she might back out from the strong words she had used against her parents. She did not think about what might happen if they actually responded but rather was caught up in the emotions. She couldn't stop hearing Draco repeat tauntingly in her head, "I'm better than you."

Watching Russet fly off, Izzy wiped away her tears. As she made her way down the stairs, she stopped at the sound of the Deputy Headmistress' voice being magically amplified throughout the Hogwarts castle.

"All students to return to their house dormitories at once. All teachers return to the staff room. Immediately, please."

Realizing how far away she was from the Slytherin common room, Iz hurried down the tower steps and practically raced through the hallways. The announcement could mean only one thing – there had been another attack. Forgetting to take her wand out, the dark-haired Malfoy rushed through the corridors and made her way towards the dungeons. Everything seemed deserted and an eerie silence filled the halls.

/Almost there/, Isabelle thought to herself, trying not to panic. Who could it have been this time? What if the monster was still in the hallways? Would it know that she was a pureblood? Remembering Hermione taking out her mirror because Basilisks could kill with their eyes, Iz desperately wished she carried one in her bag. Instead, she kept her eyes on the floor without watching where she was going.

That is, until she heard a couple of voices ahead of her. She stopped walking, listening from just around the corner.

"I must inform the others in the staff room, Argus. Be sure all the students are in their dormitories and that the front entrance is secure. I will send the other professors to assist you after they have informed their houses about the school closing, as I have to contact the Weasley family immediately." McGonagall's voice sounded terrified and did nothing to calm Izzy's own racing heart. There had been another attack – and one of the Weasleys as victim? But they are pureblooded!

Hurrying even more so now, sure that she could be a target for the Basilisk if it found her, Isabelle was just passing the wall where the original writing was when she noticed a new addition underneath.

"Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever."

Not letting herself stop to notice anything more, she took off running for the common room. Arriving in less than a minute, Izzy slipped inside unnoticed among the chaos within. Moving quickly to her usual armchair and sitting down, she caught her breath before realizing what both new pieces of information meant.

Ginny Weasley had been taken down into the Chamber of Secrets to die.