Millicent stepped into the common room and knew something had changed, in the space between waking for her first day of the new term and returning that evening after a visit to the library. She'd lived with most of these people for years; she knew the way things in her House should have been, and the way right now they weren't.
Maybe it was Draco, though he was sitting where he always had, in the high-backed chair of leather and oak that Millicent had always thought of as his throne. The throne seemed diminished now, the court he held around him smaller.
The room was balanced, in a way she'd never seen.
It didn't take her long to pick up on what these sides represented; a quick glance about the room and a quick tally in her head and she knew where things stood. Someone had declared their allegiance, while others refused to declare anything at all, and lines were being drawn in the sand. Outside these dungeons little would change, but inside had been a shift of seismic proportions. She wondered if Professor Snape realised yet just what had happened in his House.
Millicent had always taken a pragmatic approach to her place in Slytherin House. Being Draco's muscle along with those two thugs he called friends wasn't going to get her far, but it was a useful survival tactic during her years at Hogwarts. Make powerful friends and keep them happy, but don't bind yourself to them.
Before her very first day at Hogwarts, before the portkey that had taken them to Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters for the very first time, her mother had sat her down and told her all about Professor Snape. Millicent had come away hoping very much to be placed in Slytherin House, to be headed by such a clever and innovative man. A man who was a half-blood, just like her.
She never became the brilliant Potions student that, according to her mother, Snape had been even as a child, but she was certainly capable enough. And when she proved to be extremely adept at Charms, she was adaptable enough to direct her energies there. When she was fifteen, she invented a spell that formed her cat's hair into barbed, pulsing spikes; it wasn't overly useful, but it was her first step on the path to greater things.
And not a soul on either side of the now-divided Slytherin common room knew about it.
Greg and Vince were either headed to glory on Draco's coattails, or headed for destruction; either way, they were tied to Draco's destiny now. Millicent was better than that.
She didn't choose a side of the room, instead nodding once to each and passing straight through to the dormitories. She would lie across her bed with her cat purring at her shoulder and organise the notes she'd made over the summer, hoping for inspiration to strike. Placing herself back into the new social hierarchy could wait for another day.
Blaise didn't really care about Quidditch, not for any practical purposes, and he certainly didn't play. But still, there was glory for Slytherin House in a Quidditch win and that glory was closer to hand when Draco actually played. Draco begging off on account of feigned illness during their first match of the year was poor form. His new preoccupations were bad for the House, and Blaise wasn't at all pleased about it.
But he didn't say anything, he just watched and waited; one of the tricks of a successful strike was knowing precisely when to make it.
He and Draco had been friends since they had been sorted into the same House. Not the way Draco was friends with Greg and Vince, not even in the way Draco was friends with Theodore, but friends nonetheless. To be less than that would have been social suicide. At that time, anyhow; times had certainly changed.
Blaise had concerns other than the war going on in wizarding Britain, and certainly would not declare any position on the subject by sticking to Draco's side. The war, after all, would eventually end, as all wars did. And there would be a world afterwards where power was up for the taking. When that world came, Blaise would be ready.
For now, Draco was visibly weakening; Blaise had plenty of time to make his play.
And in the meantime, another power play was afoot: the newly reformed Slug Club. Oh, it was all a little ridiculous to be sure, but it was useful to be taken under the wing of someone who knew the value of a few well-placed friends. Even if Slughorn took the idea of such a social web to such ostentatious extremes.
Blaise, after all, also knew the value of a few well-placed friends held in secret.
And Slughorn was generous with the House points, which Blaise could work to his advantage. He would see Slytherin win the House Cup at least once during his time at Hogwarts, and if Draco continued to lose the House as many points as he gained them (though his sycophancy to Umbridge had been inspired, if distasteful), Blaise had his work cut out for him.
It wasn't that Pansy was in love with him; far from it, she knew that love wasn't something she could be considering at a time like this. But there was affection there, and concern, and a loyalty she seldom admitted to.
Which was why things were so difficult this year, now that Draco had other things on his mind. Oh, they still spent time together, she still curled against his side in the common room and glared down anyone who dared look at her with any hint of derision for it. But Draco's mind was somewhere else entirely, and no matter how close she stayed, he never told her what it was.
Slughorn's party was the talk of Hogwarts, just a week away now, and she was sure that Draco would have been angling for invite after Slughorn's unforgivable oversight. Maybe he was, and just wasn't telling Pansy about it. Or maybe, she wondered with a growing horror, he was already going, and taking someone else.
Pansy couldn't let that happen; she'd worked too hard for this.
She hadn't forgotten that there was an option remaining to her, an option she hadn't wanted to consider before now. They were Weasleys after all, which was distasteful enough, and even more repellent was the fact that love potions were in vogue at Hogwarts at the moment. Pansy had never been inclined to be like everyone else. Beyond all of that, though, the fact that she was actually considering giving a love potion to Draco was a low she'd hoped she wouldn't ever have to stoop to.
Still, she managed to acquire herself a bottle, through channels that directed the attention as far from her as she could. It wouldn't do to have the Weasleys know that she was purchasing their product. She considered it carefully, eyeing the liquid in the light, then stashed it in her trunk and waited to hear a whisper of something that would require she use it.
That whisper never came. Draco wasn't going to Slughorn's party, and he still let Pansy and no one else that close to him, and there was no need to slip a little love potion into his pumpkin juice one morning.
But she would have, it she'd had to.
Pansy had grown up knowing that she would need to attach herself to someone important to get anywhere in life; now she could only hope she'd attached herself to the right person, for she was too far gone now to change her mind.
One thing Theo had learned from his family's example was not to let his loyalties hang out there for all to see, not until it was absolutely necessary. It was much easier to switch sides that way, a tactic he'd used more than once in his five-and-some years at Hogwarts.
Draco had never said aloud that he was working for the Dark Lord, nor would he dare. Not at Hogwarts, and probably not outside the school either. But he said it without words, in everything he'd done since the first day back at Hogwarts. And Draco knew it; in some ways, he seemed to pride himself on it, even if in others he looked vaguely sickened by the prospect.
Everyone in Slytherin House knew that Draco was somehow behind the first attack, even if no one would admit it. And when word of the second attack swept the school, an equal failure, everyone in Slytherin knew about that one as well. It became a universally-held secret, a deepening of the rift in their house, for many were fans of neither blatancy nor incompetence and these attacks demonstrated both.
Sometimes, Theo wondered where Draco's loyalties truly lay.
His own father was very instructive, when it came to the Dark Arts, to conceiving plans and carrying through on them, from larceny to infanticide. Theo watched and learned, and scowled when his father's obvious gifts were utterly wasted on plans so clumsy and ill thought out that even a fifth-year student could foil them.
That incident was one of many things that made Theo think, and hedge his bets when it came to the building war.
Theo might decide in the end to join the Dark Lord, if things looked to be going well for him, but that time was not yet at hand.
Draco knew his time was running out. Not just his time but his family's time; the deed should have been done ages ago and everyone who was anyone knew it.
It had never seemed more impossible. At first he could tell himself that his first attempts had failed because it allowed him more time to carry out his secondary mission. This time, there were no more excuses. There was no more time.
This wasn't how he'd imagined it.
Draco had always had an active fantasy life, for as long as he could remember. He'd grown up on children's tales of power and wealth and glory, and on his parents' stories of the family's importance, the majesty of what they stood for. Draco often imagined himself on top of the world, with all those who'd stood in his way now grovelling at his feet.
Now he was cowering in a lavatory, isolated from almost everyone he'd ever called a friend, with nothing but his wet sniffles and a Mudblood ghost for comfort. With a rival at his heels, ready to take credit for Draco's task, and a lifetime of servitude ahead of him if he managed to succeed, it was far, far too late to back out now. As if that had ever been an option, with his family at stake.
When everything was else stripped from him, it was all he had left.
He would not cry this time. He would do what he had been working all year to do, and face it head-on like he had nothing to lose, even though what he would lose was everything.
Draco prepared himself for one last visit to the Room of Requirement, for his second-to-last act as a Hogwarts student and his last that involved any of his remaining friends. A few days from now the world would be a different place, for better or for worse; Draco wondered who would be at his side then.