Disclaimer: All fictional elements referred to herein belong to their respective owners. Harry Potter is Rowling's. The title and references to Wildfires belong to The Limousines. Very little of consequence is mine. No copyright infringement intended.
Author's Note: And so we reach the end of the little plot bunny that could. To everyone who has read, and to those of you who have commented: I am so very grateful. I do plan to catch up with each of you, I just can't seem to catch up with myself yet. If you've never listened to Wildfires by The Limousines, go do so. The title and a number of vague references in this story are based on it, and it's been on repeat in my head and on my iPod for days. Enjoy the ending!
The next morning begins far earlier than the previous two, owing to the fact that it's Monday, which means Draco has classes to teach. Which, in turns, means Harry has classes to teach.
Fortunately for Harry, Draco has some very interesting ways to alleviate the panic that sets in almost as soon as he opens his eyes, and the fact that they've slept without pyjamas this time makes most of his prescribed activities even easier to accomplish.
Harry resists the urge to beg Draco to stay in bed all day, knowing that today is the next step, the one he has to take before he can tell McGonagall - Minerva, his mind scolds him - that he's going to accept her offer. It would be so easy to give into that old, familiar paralysis that's kept him safely not living for the past decade. But the warmth he feels wash over him as Draco teases him out of bed with the promise of a shared shower is overpowering, and Harry grins as Draco mutters over his shoulder that he's glad he set his wake-up charm earlier than normal.
Harry isn't hungry, and Draco takes pity on him and says he'll bring him some toast and a cup of tea from the Great Hall, but that he still has to appear at breakfast as it's a school day.
"You'll be expected at the staff table too, you know," Draco says as he kisses Harry's lips lightly on his way out.
Harry nods. "I know, but not yet. Not today."
Draco smiles and straightens Harry's collar. "You conquered the stars last night, Harry Potter. A hall full of teenagers can wait a while longer."
Harry grins and pulls Draco down to kiss him again before shoving him out the door.
"You look rather handsome, by the way," Draco says from the doorway, and Harry blushes a bit, pleased. "Try not to ruin the effect while I'm gone." He eyes Harry, and his gaze turns to an exaggerated leer. "Then again, perhaps you could look a bit less handsome, or we might be late to my first class."
He laughs as Harry pulls a face at him, and Harry laughs too, grateful for the distraction from his nerves.
By the time Draco returns from breakfast, the sight of the toast turns his stomach, but he chokes it down.
"These will be sixth years," Draco is saying as they stride towards his classroom. "They're fairly competent, and they understand the basics behind the charm, or they should if they've done their homework. My seventh years come in before lunch, and you saw the fifth year class at the end of the day on Friday. If today goes well and you'd like them for another session or two, that's fine, but if you'll get them through today, I can make due the rest of the week."
If you hate it goes unsaid, and Harry is grateful, because he doesn't want to hate it. He doesn't want to be terrified of a room full of teenagers, and he doesn't want to let Draco down. He also desperately doesn't want to find a reason notto take the Flying Instructor position. Reaching the door, he takes a deep breath and follows Draco into the classroom, mindful of the curious eyes that watch him as he makes his way to the front of the room.
"Take your seats please," Draco says, voice clear and clipped.
Harry isn't even a little surprised when every student in the room scrambles to their chairs. He resists the urge to find one himself, so full of confident authority is Draco's voice.
"A few of you may recognise my colleague here," he gestures to Harry, who finds himself trying to stand up a little straighter under the scrutiny of two dozen pairs of eyes. "I've asked Mr. Potter to come in and teach you a bit about the Patronus charm. Yes, Mr. Smith?"
Draco looks at a young wizard whose hand has shot up in a manner very reminiscent of Hermione's.
"Why are you not teaching it, Professor?"
Draco smiles obligingly. "Some of you may be more aware of Mr. Potter's history than others. Suffice to say he produced a fully-formed Patronus in his third year, and was teaching it to some of our classmates by his fifth. You'll find very few wizards better equipped to teach you this particular spell, Mr. Smith. And sometimes the learning process is bettered by mixing things up a bit."
Harry admires the way Draco deflects the question, never saying he can't produce the charm himself, and yet answering in such a complete way that the students are nodding and whispering excitedly. Draco looks at Harry.
"They're all yours," he says under his breath, and he touches Harry's lower back lightly as he passes by on his way to perch on the edge of his desk, face expectant but encouraging.
Harry takes a deep breath. "Er, good morning," he says. "Like Dr- Professor Malfoy said, I'm only going to try to explain a bit about the Patronus to you. I don't expect that you'll all be able to conjure one today, and some of you may never be able to conjure one at all. Many wizards don't ever conjure one, so don't think you're doing anything wrong." He lets his eyes flick to Draco, who smiles slightly. "Does anyone have questions before we start?"
He loathes the fact that he's asked the question, but he'd rather get this out of the way than not. To his surprise, only one hand goes up. A young witch with clever eyes and a rather nice smile clears her throat when Harry nods at her. He knows what's coming, and he braces himself for it.
"Mr. Potter, I only wondered if...well...is it true you were the youngest Seeker at Hogwarts in a century?"
Or not. Harry looks at her, surprised, and is grateful when Draco rescues him so he doesn't stand there gaping at a 16-year-old girl for the next 10 minutes.
"Miss Pennington is the Hufflepuff Quidditch captain," he says, "and rather an aficionado of sorts. She's a walking encyclopaedia of Quidditch facts." He turns to face the beaming Miss Pennington. "Although perhaps this particular line of questioning could wait until after Mr. Potter's lesson?"
She blushes and smiles, because there's that fond tone again, the one that admonishes without humiliating. It's impressive, and oddly attractive, Harry notices. Perhaps because it's just another in a long line of indications of how much things have changed since Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy met 16 years ago. Draco nods at him to continue, and Harry looks around one more time. No more questions come though, and he finds himself relieved, and buoyed. Perhaps he can do this after all.
"Right, so the thing about a Patronus," he says, "is that a great deal of it hinges upon your ability to conjure and hold the happiest memory you can think of. Everyone think of a memory."
He scans the room.
"Anyone brave enough to share theirs?" he asks, remembering Remus Lupin's voice in his ear when he told him the first memory he tried. That's not good enough...that's not nearly good enough.
Several hands go up. Harry points to a blonde witch in the front row who's chewing on her lip nervously.
"Er, the first time I taught my baby sister to say my name?" she squeaks.
Harry grins. "Yes! Precisely, that's excellent!" The girl beams and Draco smiles at him. "Anyone else?"
A dark-haired wizard in the back of the room speaks up. "My first trip to Diagon Alley," he says. "I'm Muggleborn."
Harry thinks back to his first trip to Diagon Alley with Hagrid. He remembers the wonder at realising magic existed at all. He smiles encouragingly at the boy. "I think that might do it," he says. "If not, we might experiment with a different one, but I remember my first trip like it was yesterday, and it was quite a sight indeed."
Several more students volunteer their memories, and though a few require some tweaking or some urging for more information, Harry is pleased.
"Now, focus as hard as you can on that memory," he says to the class, who are now out of their chairs, wands in hand. "And say Expecto Patronum. Practise once or twice before you use your wands."
The room becomes a din, and after a minute, Harry instructs them to try with their wands. To his amazement, four of them manage a wisp of an animal before their spells go out, and eight more produce enough light to be more than a little promising. Several more attempts and some guidance from Harry, and three more manage some light.
Harry, delighted, looks to the front of the room at Draco, who is still sitting on the front of his desk. He's grinning at Harry, looked equally delighted. Harry makes his way up to the desk, leaning against it casually next to where Draco sits, just close enough to brush Draco's thigh with his hip.
"Nicely done, Professor Potter," Draco says under his breath, his tone playful.
Harry beams, both at the praise and at the title, since it means a good bit more than just that he's taught a few students the beginnings of a Patronus.
Something that looks remarkably like a beaver spirals up into the air from one boy's wand, and he whoops, and Harry barely resists the urge to join him. He leans over to nudge Draco with his shoulder instead, because he's pretty sure snogging the breath out of the Dark Arts professor in front of his sixth year class is forbidden, especially to someone who's only just a candidate for a teaching job.
In answer, Draco pulls his own wand from his sleeve, so casually that Harry almost doesn't notice. He nudges Harry back but doesn't look at him, and whispers, "Expecto Patronum."
A bird rises from the end of Draco's wand. Not just any bird though, not to anyone who was at Hogwarts when they were students. The line of the wings and the beak and the crest are unmistakable, and the majesty takes Harry's breath away.
"It seems," Draco says, watching the wispy creature take flight above their heads, "that even my Patronus believes I've risen from the proverbial ashes. Not bad, eh Potter?"
He fails utterly at his attempt at nonchalance, but Harry lets it go, distracted as he is by the flight of the phoenix Draco has produced. Finally, he can't stop himself.
"What did you think of?" he asks, wonder evident in his voice.
Draco smiles and finally tears his eyes from the bird to look right at Harry, and Harry thinks they might as well be the only two people in the whole castle in that moment.
"You," he says, and he lets his hand slide over Harry's where it sits on his desk, hidden from the eyes of the students who are still throwing beams of light from their wands. "When you aligned your stars."
Harry laughs aloud, and Draco's Patronus swoops over their heads, circling playfully.
"I think you aligned them," he says, linking their fingers together and squeezing for just a moment, basking in the glow of Draco's words and his smile and the warmth of his touch, and the knowledge that all of those are his for as long as he wants, "and as I recall, they were your stars. I just needed you to help me find them."