~inspired by a pun found on tumblr~
Draco Malfoy was tired. He'd been reluctant to return to Hogwarts for the new "eighth year" – a component of Acting Headmistress McGonagall's post-war agenda – partly because he was genuinely sorry for his role in the destruction of the school, but mostly because he knew it would be like this.
He spent every waking moment that he wasn't in class or bolting down meals holed up here in the library, in his own secluded corner. No one bothered him here, either because they were ignoring him, or because they didn't know this spot existed. He'd dragged over his favorite chair – overstuffed, faded and worn, and supremely comfortable – at the beginning of term, and no one had tried to take it from him. He sometimes wondered, as he peered out at the other students, if this was how Potter felt when he was under that blasted invisibility cloak. As if the world – or maybe just himself – wasn't actually real. Draco shook his head to chase away the fancies, turning resolutely away from Potter, and back to his book.
There were 137 books on Transfigurations in the Hogwarts library. Draco knew this, because he'd spent most of this term reading every one. Well, every one he could find. Five of them were missing – Madam Pince scowled at him, when he questioned her about them, looking as if she suspected he'd been the one to misplace them (though, really, it wasn't like he'd be asking her about them if he had) – and six had been checked out since the beginning of term by one Hermione Granger.
Draco eyed her, where she sat with her two sidekicks. (They were her sidekicks, Draco had decided. Everyone thought Harry was in charge of those three but… nearly eight years of watching them had told him that in this case, at least, everyone was wrong). She was bent industriously over a stack of books and parchment, and Draco sighed. He was almost certain that one of the books he needed for this assignment was in that stack. But it may as well have been on Mars, for all the good it did him.
Draco tipped his chair back onto its back legs, propped his feet onto the table in front of him, and stared out the window at Madam Hooch's first-years, zooming about on their brooms. He ached to be out there, in the clear November skies, but…
Draco hadn't flown since the fiendfyre incident the year before. He just… couldn't.
He'd left his broom at home – or, tried to, anyway. It had made the journey to Hogwarts regardless – he suspected that his mother had had a hand in it. She was intent on meddling in his life, of ensuring he "made something of himself." Draco wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but he knew it didn't sound good.
All he wanted was to be left in peace. Which was why, this term, he'd spent every spare moment in the library. Where better to ensure he'd avoid the majority of his peers? Especially on good flying days, like today. For that matter, why wasn't Potter outside today?
Draco frowned, turning his attention back to their table. He could just see Potter's mop of tousled curls over the precarious stacks of books that hid his alcove away from the rest of the library. Potter was bent over something on their table, chewing absently at his lower lip as his quill scratched frantically across his parchment. Draco winced as the quill sputtered, leaving irregular blotches of ink on the parchment, but Potter just kept scribbling.
Suddenly suspicious, Draco turned his attention to Granger, who was seated next to Potter. Only she wasn't. She was wrapped indecently around the Weasel, sitting half on his lap as he snogged her senseless. Draco was about to look away, lip already curling in disgust, when Harry slipped the parchment he'd been bent over back in front of Granger. The Weasel gave him a discreet thumbs-up behind her back, even as they separated. The bell rang, then, and Granger grabbed up her books and parchments without really looking at them, stuffing them into her bag and herding the others toward the door.
Draco snorted. Wonderful. Potter had been copying Granger's essay. No doubt the one that was due in Transfigurations in a few minutes. Well, probably not copying, he admitted to himself. Even Potter – even devil-may-care post-war Potter – was smarter than that. He'd most likely produced yet another completely illegible mess of stolen phrases, key words, and randomly copied notes that would get high marks just because he was the Chosen One.
Draco winced, thinking of his last Potions essay. He'd spent days on it, and had barely managed a passing grade. Potter had jotted down a load of nonsense five minutes before class – Draco had watched him, appalled – and gotten the highest score in the class. Because he was Saint Potter, of course, and Draco Malfoy was only a teenage Death Eater.
Potter had already been accepted into Auror training. So had Weasley, for that matter. Draco knew they were only back at Hogwarts this year because Granger had insisted. They didn't need the grades. That, combined with their post-war hero status, meant that Potter and Weasley put even less work into their studies these days, if such a thing were possible. Granger, being Granger, completed each assignment diligently, but even she had begun to let things slide, preferring snogging the Weasel even over reading her beloved books.
Draco felt slightly ill at the thought, and quickly pushed it aside. The Golden Trio were already at the library doors, jostling and shoving one another good-naturedly, and Draco sent that morning's books winging back to their shelves with a practiced flick of his wand and grabbed his bag, hurrying after the receding forms of Potter and Co. The last thing he needed was for McGonagall to get on his case for being late to Transfigurations.
She was the only professor in the entire school who still treated him fairly. He couldn't jeopardize that – he needed her to agree to write his recommendations. And not only because he knew she would evaluate him honestly, but because he had decided to pursue Transfigurations after graduation. Assuming he could get somebody to agree to take him on.
Everyone expected him to pursue Potions, of course. He'd always gotten the highest marks in it – well, until Horace Slughorn, Harry Potter's biggest fan, took over Snape's job – but he'd never enjoyed it the way he did Transfigurations. Potions was… not easy, exactly. It was only that his late godfather had been instructing him in Potions since he could walk, spending his summers tutoring Draco at Malfoy Manor. Lucius wanted the best for his son. Thankfully, it was no longer Lucius' decision, as he was currently rotting in Azkaban. As, Draco admitted easily, he should be.
Potions was a chore, tedious and boring, and now it brought a host of bad memories. No, he wouldn't pursue Potions. Transfigurations, though… Draco smiled involuntarily, recalling the bubbling elation that always surged through him when he managed a flawless transfiguration. Yes. He loved Transfigurations. He just needed to convince McGonagall of that – and to give him a chance. He'd been putting it off all term, and he needed to talk to her soon if he was going to; next week they would be choosing the elective classes they would take for their final term at Hogwarts. He knew what he wanted to do: an independent study in advanced Transfigurations. But he needed McGonagall's permission to sign up for it; she only took one student each year.
Draco sighed. He was never going to get in. He slumped into his seat, all the nervous energy bleeding out of him. One student, out of the whole returning eighth year – and the seventh years, he realized suddenly, dropping his head to thunk quietly on his desk. He didn't stand a chance.
Draco slid into his seat in the Transfigurations classroom the next day with a few minutes to spare. The Golden Trio had stopped to chat with the mob of students in the hall, and Draco took the time to compose himself and ponder the best way to ask his question. He'd decided, after a long firecall with his mother the night before, to go through with it after all. This was his last chance to make something of himself – to prove he was not his father's son. He glanced around for McGonagall, idly wondering if he ought to get it over with now, rather than waiting until after class, but he didn't see her. Sighing, he pulled out his quill and parchment, readying himself for the day's note-taking.
The bell rang just as the loitering students slipped through the door. Draco looked up from the snitch he was doodling in the corner of his parchment; McGonagall's chair was empty. He frowned. After several seconds ticked by, with no sign of McGonagall, the classroom erupted in whispers. Draco sighed. It wasn't like McGonagall to be late. Which meant she was being delayed – probably by some pompous ministry official. Which meant she wouldn't be likely to be receptive to his request. Which meant he would have to wait until next week – which meant he was royally screwed.
Draco slashed an angry line through the snitch, spattering ink across the parchment. He didn't bother blotting it. What was the point?
Draco startled as a sleek tabby cat leaped suddenly onto McGonagall's desk and sat primly, tail curled around its legs. The class fell silent as the cat stared unblinkingly out at them for a moment, then lifted one paw and studied it, flexing its claws in and out.
The cat looked up, locking eerily knowing eyes with Potter's, and then stretched languidly and leaped off the desk with liquid grace, form shifting and blurring in midair. Professor McGonagall landed, light as any cat, calm and unruffled and not a hair out of place. She waved at the stack of parchment on the edge of her desk. "Mister Weasley. Please pass those back, would you?"
"Yes, Ma'am," the Weasel muttered. Draco's stomach dropped as he glanced at the essay the Weasel tossed at him. It didn't have a grade – merely a "See me after class" in red ink. His vision blurred, and he had to blink back tears. So much for McGonagall being the one professor who treated him fairly and honestly.
"Mister Potter," McGonagall said sharply, as the Weasel took his seat. "Would you do me the favor of reading aloud the note at the top of your essay?"
Harry blushed. "Um. OK." He cleared his throat. "No credit, on grounds of abysmal understanding of the topic and mangling of the English language. Replacement essay due at the beginning of class on Monday; partial credit only."
McGonagall nodded. "Can I assume, Mister Potter, that you did last night's reading with the same diligence as you did the previous night's?"
Harry frowned. "Er…"
"Excellent. Perhaps you can enlighten us all, therefore, as to the difference between a cat and a comma?"
"Er…" Harry slanted a panicked glance at Hermione, who was staring at McGonagall, forehead wrinkled in thought. Ron was staring blankly ahead, eyes slightly glazed. Draco wanted desperately to laugh as Harry glanced around at the confusion on his classmates' faces, looking utterly baffled. He held his breath, hoping to stifle the laughter, fighting to maintain his bored expression. Surely, she can't mean what I think she does?
"The answer, Mister Potter," said McGonagall, tone clipped, "which you would do well to remember for your next essay, is this." She turned to the board and started writing in elegant, looping script as she spoke. "One has claws at the ends of its paws, and one is a pause at the end of a clause."
She turned back, biting her lip to stifle the smile as she inspected her nails. There was a long beat of silence and then the class dissolved into slightly incredulous laughter, Draco included. Her delivery was fucking perfect!
Harry just stared. Draco laughed harder. That was better than anything Snape managed. McGonagall – you're absolutely my new favorite teacher. For the first time since class started, Draco allowed himself to hope that McGonagall might consider his request after all.
Draco stood in front of McGonagall's desk as the other students filed out, biting his lip nervously and clutching his essay in clammy hands.
"Mister Malfoy," she began, and then she seemed to take in his anxious expression, and her tone softened. "I don't bite, Mister Malfoy," she said, rummaging in her desk. "Here." She waved a tin at him.
She sighed. "A biscuit, Mister Malfoy. Have a biscuit." She waved the tin under his nose, and he reached out automatically and took one.
"And for goodness sakes, Mister Malfoy, have a seat. You look like you've been dragged before the Wizengamot."
Draco's eyes widened, and he froze, biscuit halfway to his lips.
McGonagall winced. "My apologies, Mister Malfoy. All I meant was that I only wanted to commend you on a truly brilliant essay, and to ask if you've given any thought to the elective you wish to take next term."
"I have…" Draco said hesitantly.
McGonagall smiled briskly. "Excellent. I would like you to consider taking an independent study in Advanced Transfigurations, and – "
"Yes!" Draco blurted.
McGonagall frowned at him. "Mister Malfoy. I do not ask this lightly. It will be a great deal of work, and – "
"No, I mean, yes, I mean…" Draco stuttered to a halt and took a breath, collecting his thoughts. "What I mean, Professor McGonagall, is that I would absolutely love to take an independent study with you. I had been planning to ask you to consider taking me on after class today, anyway."
"Oh? Well. Good, then. Now," McGonagall steepled her fingers, leaning towards him earnestly, "I do have one condition."
Draco's heart sank, and he schooled his expression. This is it. This is the catch.
"I want you to help out in my lower level classes next term, as well, and I want you to accept a recommendation from me to assist me in my Transfigurations classes next year, and, assuming you don't muck it up spectacularly – which I'm certain you won't, so stop worrying, Mister Malfoy – to consider accepting the role of full Professor when I retire. I'll still be around, of course, to help you in any way that you need, but I don't foresee you having many difficulties."
Draco stared at her, flabbergasted. "Not even with this?" he asked, when he found his voice, pushing his left sleeve up and revealing the ugly mark that still stained his skin.
McGonagall peered over her spectacles at it, then looked up to meet his eyes. "Mister Malfoy," she said sternly, "you will find that there are very few of us who do not regret something we did in the war. It was war, after all – and it is in the past. I know it is difficult for you, bearing the evidence of your mistakes visibly, but don't let anyone tell you that you are less for it."
Draco felt himself tearing up, and he struggled to hold onto his dignity. McGonagall smiled at him, drawing him into a startlingly fierce hug. "Go on, then," she said, patting his back awkwardly. "I'm sure you've other classes to get to."
Draco nodded, grateful for the chance to escape. He was almost at the door when McGonagall spoke again. "Oh, and Mister Malfoy?"
He turned back to meet her eyes, which twinkled mischievously at him. "Yes, Professor?"
"Do tell Mister Potter that I expect that essay to be legible, would you? And tell Miss Granger that she's had Liebold's Transfiguring the Elements for quite long enough, and I expect her to hand it over to you without making a fuss, as you'll need to have access to it for your first project next term – which, incidentally, I highly recommend starting on now. Oh, and Benson's Water into Wine, as well." She fixed him with a level gaze. "I shan't go easy on you, Mister Malfoy, but I shan't expect anything of you that I don't expect of any other independent study student. And if I ever do, it's merely that I think you're capable of more."
Draco grinned at her, nodding, and walked out of the classroom with a spring in his step that he hadn't felt in years. For the first time since he'd realized what it truly meant to be a Death Eater, he felt like he had a future. And it. Was. Wonderful.