Title: Soldier's Welcome
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco preslash, Ron/Hermione
Warnings: Violence (and plenty of it), profanity, references to sex, takes account of DH but ignores the epilogue, heavy angst.
Summary: It's the first year of Auror training for Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and…Draco Malfoy, But with Hagrid, Snape's second Pensieve, rogue Death Eaters, Auror classes, and someone trying to start a second war to worry about, Harry might not have the time to pay that much attention to Malfoy. At first, anyway.
Author's Notes: This story is the first in a trilogy called Running to Paradise, which takes its title from a W. B. Yeats poem. Each story will be novel-length, and each will cover a year of Harry and Draco's training as Aurors. Though there are a lot of fics out there about them acting as Auror partners, there aren't as many about their training, so I hope to cover some original ground there. I'm indebted to a reader named SP777 for suggesting a training fic for me to write.
Chapter One—Onward Bickering Soldiers
"All right, mate!"
Harry barely managed to lift one arm into the proper position before Ron crashed into him and hugged him ecstatically. Then he had to laugh at the expression on Hermione's face. She sat across the table from them and refused to look impressed as Ron whooped and pounded Harry on the back.
"That means that all of us got into Auror training!" Ron whirled away from Harry and performed a dance around the table in the middle of Grimmauld Place's kitchen that could be called a war-dance. Harry laughed again as he watched Hermione clamp her mouth tight and shake her head. Ron refused to notice. He practiced a few kicks in the air instead that he probably imagined were the kind of thing they would learn in the Auror classes, then turned and beamed at Harry. "I told you that they weren't going to hold your Potions NEWT score against you!"
Harry flinched. He hated being reminded of the fact that maybe he wasn't good enough to be an Auror and had only been accepted because he was the Boy-Who-Lived. He didn't knowthat that was the reason they had chosen to give him a chance at training, but what if it was?
Ron didn't even take the Potions NEWT, he told himself, but that only made him suspect that they'd taken Ron because he was a war hero. He coughed and said, "I know we have to take different classes. Do we get to choose them, or will it be like first year at Hogwarts and they pick them for us?"
Luckily, that both gave him something else to think about and distracted Hermione from the angry speech on maturity that she was about to hurl at Ron. She glanced at Harry and smiled. "A bit of both. There are five classes that everyone has to take, but they supplement that with three other classes that are concentrated areas of study. You can choose any one of the three." She tapped a piece of parchment in front of her that looked like a Ministry informational pamphlet. "Or more than one."
"No prizes for guessing how many Hermione's going to take," Ron said, and rolled his eyes at his girlfriend.
"Don't be silly, Ron," Hermione said, in a muffled voice as she buried her head back into the stack of paper she'd gathered. "I don't have a Time-Turner, and one of the extra classes doesn't sound very interesting. I'm only going to take seven, not eight." She glanced up at him. "On the other hand, I fully expect that I'll be busy enough that I won't be able to do your homework for you."
Ron gave a loud sigh in her general direction. "Did I ask you to? No, I didn't."
Hermione's face turned stormy. Harry spoke as loudly as he could, because once one of their arguments got going, no one else would be able to think or talk about anything else for hours. "What are the five classes that we have to take?"
Hermione promptly pulled out a list on what looked like glossier paper than normal and slid it across the table to him. "Honestly, Harry, I know that you got a copy of this," she said in a scolding tone. "If you paid attention to your things and kept them in order, then you wouldn't need to depend on me to keep them in order for you."
"But then what would your purpose in life be?" Harry asked as he picked up the list.
Hermione rolled her eyes in exasperation, but didn't attack him the way she would have attacked Ron for a similar comment. That increased Harry's suspicion that she got so testy with Ron because he was her boyfriend, rather than her friend, and she didn't want to make excuses for his childishness any more. Harry had tried to tell Ron that it was something like that and that he was in danger of losing Hermione several times over the past year as they finished up the classes they had missed during the Horcrux quest and sat their NEWTS at Hogwarts. Ron had loftily ignored him.
Harry hoped he would pay attention soon. Ron and Hermione bickered worse than ever now that they were dating, and he would hate to see them break up.
The list of courses proved to be less informative than he'd wanted, since it was just the titles of the classes without descriptions. Harry raised one eyebrow. "All right," he said. "I think I know what Defensive and Offensive Magic, Battlefield Tactics, and Battle Healing are, but what about Auror Conduct? And Hand-to-Hand Combat? Why do we need to learn that when we have wands?"
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said. "How do you think Aurors learn what regulations they're supposed to obey and how to work together with other Departments in the Ministry? That's what Auror Conduct is about. They'll teach us what spells we aren't allowed to cast, and what penalties there will be if we do, and how to arrest someone, and how to do interrogations." Her eyes were bright.
"That's going to be her favorite bloody class, I can see it right now," Ron grumbled into his hand. "Because it's all about the bloody rules."
Harry was getting tired of playing peacemaker, so he joined in with Hermione's glare at Ron before he added, "And Hand-to-Hand Combat is for the situations where we drop our wands, then, or can't reach them." He felt silly for not thinking about that before.
Hermione nodded. "And for the situations where we can't cast magic because we're in front of Muggles," she said. "Or close combat situations where most spells would hurt our friends and allies as well as the criminals. Really, I wish that I'd known how to do that when we were hunting the Horcruxes." She reached across the table to stroke the paper as if it were the textbook for one of the classes. "We could have used it several times."
Harry peered at the list of optional classes, in part because he would start thinking about the war again if he listened too hard to Hermione's words. "Observation, Battle Brewing, Recognizing Dark Magic…why do we have to have separate classes in observation and recognizing Dark magic? Isn't that something that we'll learn how to do through the other classes anyway?"
"Yes," Hermione said, in a tone of strained patience. "But those classes are for people who want to learn the skills all in one big lump." She tilted her head to the side. "I don't think I'll take Observation, actually. I need more practice with recognizing Dark magic and brewing potions in the middle of battle."
"I think Battle Brewing is actually about brewing potions that you use for battle," said Ron, around a mouthful of cereal.
"Maybe you're right," Hermione said, glancing away with sharp lines around her eyes.
Harry sighed and intervened again. "Well, I'll choose Observation, then. I don't think I need much more skill at recognizing Dark magic, and Potions is always going to be my worst subject. We'll probably learn the most useful ones in Battle Healing, anyway. But it would have been an awfully good thing if I'd been a better observer at some points in the past." He fell silent, and wondered if he could have done better if he'd noticed years ago that Snape wasn't really a slimy, irredeemable git or that there was something unusual about Dumbledore's wand.
Then he locked the thoughts away. What-If was a fun game to play at night, when he couldn't sleep anyway. He refused to play it during the daylight hours. "What about you, Ron?"
"Recognizing Dark Magic," Ron said, and leaned over Harry's shoulder to look down at the schedule. "I'm very observant. For example, right now the two of you are looking at each other with that special expression that means you think I'm hopeless."
Hermione hastily blinked. Harry laughed in spite of himself and settled back in his chair, looking fondly from one to the other of his two best friends.
He'd thought it was a dream come true when Hermione changed her mind about becoming a lawyer right away and declared that she wanted to train as an Auror instead, because she wasn't ready to start doing good from behind a desk. Then he'd wondered if it really was when he saw the way Ron and Hermione fought.
But at the moment, he felt bright and hopeful again. Ron was giving Hermione one of the soft smiles that made Harry sure that everything would be all right for them, and he had a tight hand on Harry's shoulder. No matter how close Ron and Hermione became, they did their best to make sure that Harry didn't feel left out.
Except, of course, as much as was inevitable.
Harry sighed. There was one game that he played with his mind during the day, and that game was called, "Let's Not Think About Ginny." He began playing it again as he asked if Hermione had a more detailed description of the classes, and Hermione fetched out another pamphlet.
Harry grinned as he read that Auror Conduct was taught by Hestia Jones, who had been a member of the Order of the Phoenix. If classes that boring had to exist, then it was for the best if a friend could teach them.
"I do not understand why you are doing this, Draco."
"That's all right, Mother." Draco didn't look up from packing his books into a bag. He'd chosen carefully among the books that he still possessed from Hogwarts. Some of the older Potions books had sentimental value, which meant he was ruthlessly going to leave them behind. He wasn't venturing out of the Manor and into the wider world for sentimental reasons. But he would take the Defense Against the Dark Arts and Potions books from his last three years of classes. He weighed his newest Herbology book thoughtfully in his hands, wondering if it would be useful. "Father doesn't understand, either."
That was a tone of voice he had to respond to. He wouldn't be his mother's son if he didn't. Draco looked up, then reached out and clasped her hand when he saw it extended to him. He leaned in and kissed her cheek.
Narcissa smiled tiredly at him. She had looked weary ever since the day when the Wizengamot had pronounced a sentence of two years in Azkaban for Lucius and a year of being without a wand for her. As long as she stayed in the Manor, with house-elves ready to do anything she asked them, she wasn't helpless, but Draco knew that wasn't the point. The loss of a wand crippled a wizard, no matter what the other circumstances. The best that could be said was that the Ministry hadn't snapped her wand, only removed it from the Manor. Minister Shacklebolt himself had promised it would be kept in a secure location. With that, Draco reckoned, they had to be content.
The upshot of his parents' agreeing to accept those punishments was that Draco himself had had to do nothing but make a solemn promise that he wouldn't use Dark Arts again and then surrender his wand to be "tested" for a month (once he got it back from Potter, who had been abrupt but decent about the thing under the circumstances). He'd been able to study privately for the NEWTS and sit them, and he'd had the courage—and the determination to show everyone that the Malfoys were no cowards or criminals, to feel chastened by the Dark Lord's loss in the war—to apply to Auror training.
Now he'd been accepted, and he'd had to face his share of bewildered stares from his parents in the past month, as well as weary smiles and soft attempts to persuade him otherwise.
"I have to do this, Mother," he said, rubbing his fingers across her knuckles. They were white, he noticed. Of course, they were white all the time now. Narcissa seemed to take a harder grip on things around her as her hold on what had been essential truths for so long slipped away. "For one thing, it's good to show our enemies that we don't feel guilty. We didn't do anything wrong. We didn't kill people and torture them for fun, like Aunt Bellatrix did." His mother flinched a little. She was still sensitive about Bellatrix's death. Draco had tried to be honest with himself since the final battle under the impression that it was self-deception that had been his father's downfall. In the spirit of that honesty, he didn't know if she was more upset about a sister she once loved being killed or a Weasley being the one to kill her. "We didn't want to invite those people into our Manor. Everyone knows now that the Dark Lord compelled me to hurt people." Draco grimaced. That had been the most painful part of his confession in front of the Wizengamot, listening to himself blurt intimate details under Veritaserum while the watching faces assumed expressions of self-righteous pity. They had no right. "The Ministry has declared our tolls paid. Why shouldn't I show them that we have as much right to participate in the wizarding world as anyone else?"
"I can understand that," Narcissa said. Draco waited. He had come to know that those words usually preceded a refusal to understand. "But why must it be Auror training, Draco? Why not wait a few years and then resume our rightful place?"
Draco hesitated. He had wanted to avoid distressing his mother, and so he hadn't told her the truth. He spent more time outside the Manor than she did, and saw more. But now he didn't think he could avoid it.
"That rightful place will never come back," he said. "Not unless we fight for it. People who were Father's friends for years turn away with a sneer when they see me. Most of the committees or charities he donated to have altered their records to say that no Malfoy money ever reached them. I know, because I checked," he added, as Narcissa lifted a devastated, disbelieving face towards him. "We can't wait for power to return to us. We have to seize it."
His mother shut her eyes and stood in a listening attitude for a long moment. Draco didn't disturb her. He thought she was bidding farewell to her dreams of normality.
Then she stood, and gave him a sharp nod. "As my ancestors did, when they saw a power vacuum and determined that the Blacks should be the ones to occupy it," she said. "I am proud that you are living up to your heritage, Draco."
Draco kissed her cheek and reached again for his books, relieved. She had taken the news much better than his father, and hadn't even demanded that he explain his other reasons.
Those reasons were related less to his family and more to himself. Draco wanted to show that he was more than the pathetic little Slytherin, Harry Potter's shadow, that he knew most people thought of if they remembered his first six years at Hogwarts, and more than the Dark Lord's torturer. Someone powerful and dangerous in his own right, someone with skills that had to be respected or run away from.
And then there was the minor fact that no Malfoy had ever been an Auror before, so Draco was walking down a new path none of his ancestors had trod.
I am going to be a Malfoy, but I am also going to be myself.
"What's Malfoy doing here?" Ron hissed into Harry's ear.
Harry blinked and glanced around. "You were right," he muttered, barely spotting the familiar blond hair whisking behind the shoulder of a tall, burly man with a black beard eating half his face. "You don't need to take the Observation class at all." He shrugged. "And does it matter? If he's only here to watch and dream of what he can never have, it shouldn't be a problem."
"And what if they actually accepted him as a recruit?" It was Hermione who said that, and not Ron, to Harry's surprise. Her face was tense. "I don't want someone who thinks I should curl up and die training with me. He might decide to make it happen."
Harry shrugged again, helplessly. "Well, I don't think Kingsley or anyone else would let him actually say it—"
"But if he thinks it?"
Harry didn't get a chance to respond, because seven wizards Apparated into the front of the enormous room where all the trainees were gathered with a series of bangs that called immediate attention. The pink smoke that billowed up around them from someone's wand didn't hurt, either. Harry craned his neck, trying to get a good look at everyone. These were probably the Aurors he would spend the next few years training under. He was just hoping not to see a Death Eater.
The Head Auror, Gawain Robards, was easy enough to recognize. Harry had met with him several times over the past few months to discuss his experiences during the war, because those experiences had been helpful to the Aurors in deciding who to sentence harshly during the Death Eater trials. He wasn't big, but he was broad; he had arms that looked as if he could carry a house on them. His hair was pale brown and swept his shoulders. The delicate spectacles on his face looked out of place, given that. He looked up and down the rows of recruits and nodded once, deliberately. Harry had no idea what he was nodding at, but he tried to stand up straighter and suck in his stomach anyway. With no more Voldemort to run around after, he was afraid that he was starting to gain weight.
The second most striking figure was the one who stepped up beside Robards and spun her wand through her fingers, smiling unpleasantly. Harry shivered. She looked like McGonagall without the glasses and without the kindness. She had grey hair that was twisted into a braid that probably gave her headaches and a dark line under her neck that dived into her robes. Harry wondered if that was a scar or the chain of a locket. This was probably Alice Holder, Robards's second-in-command and disciplinarian.
He had time to see that the other people on stage were three women and two men before Robards put his hands to his mouth and whistled sharply. The last chatter died down, and Robards nodded again.
"I would say that I am here to welcome you to Auror training," he said, "except that at best I can give you only a soldier's welcome." He flicked his wand, and a spinning ball of fire appeared above his head, casting his face into radiant light and the rest of the room into shadow at the same time. Harry stared in fascination. He hadn't ever heard of a spell like that. He could hear Hermione muttering under her breath beside him, probably wishing for parchment and ink so that she could write her observations about the spell's effects down.
"Make no mistake," Robards said, lowering his voice a bit to emphasize his points, though Harry thought no one else in the room could possibly look at or listen to anyone but him. "Being an Auror is more like being a soldier than anything else. There's a reason that several of your courses have the word 'Battle' in the title. We are the first line of defense against Dark wizards, and even ordinary wizards and witches who might be cursed and not responsible for their actions. We are here to defend the innocent, to lock away those who might break the laws and try to impose their will on the wizarding world, and ultimately to prevent the outbreak of another war like the one that so many of us remember so well." He clenched his hands and bowed his head. "It is our failing that the Aurors played so small a part in winning that war."
Harry found himself wanting to protest, even though he knew better than anyone that the Aurors hadn't helped that much. He bit his lip and was silent. Robards was certainly convincing. Harry could see why he was Head Auror.
Robards lifted his head with a defiant toss that told any watching Dark wizards without words to go fuck themselves. "But we will be an organized and disciplined array from this moment forwards," he said, with a sound of gathering thunder. "And I do promise that you will become part of that array strongly and gracefully." He shrugged, and his face had an expression of chilling indifference on it. "If you cannot, or if you try to struggle for your own personal glory and power, then you will be dropped from the program."
"Well, that's Malfoy taken care of," Ron muttered to Harry.
"For now," Robards said, stepping aside, "I will leave it up to Auror Holder and your professors to distribute your schedules and inquire about your choices for optional classes. Regular training does not begin until tomorrow." A smile flashed across his face, so quick that Harry would have missed if it he'd blinked. "Welcome to Auror training."
And then he was gone, banishing the ball of flame as he went so that regular light came flooding back. Harry whistled under his breath and focused his attention on Holder and the rest with renewed determination. He was going to show everyone that he was good at serving the wizarding world and not just taking risks or having wild adventures.
If he could do that, then maybe he could fill the hole in himself that Voldemort's death seemed to have left behind.
Draco tightened his hold on the strap of the bag over his shoulder. The announcement had shaken him, but he was still determined to exercise his personal ambition here and rise to the top of the Auror ranks. As long as he kept up the veneer of a public servant on the surface, why shouldn't he achieve power and glory? The world was more complicated than someone like Robards understood, particularly for someone like Draco.
I'm going to do this. They won't drive me away, no matter what happens. Potter himself can't drive me away, if he's here.
So he listened closely as the disagreeable-looking Auror Holder stepped towards them and began to speak, but without fear. He was done with being a coward, with being a child, with being anything that he didn't want to be.