The beginning of another new year at Hogwarts. In a little more than a week, students would arrive, eager to learn new spells, charms and potions. Well, most of them. Harry knew all too well that not all students were cut out for the discipline of a school like Hogwarts. He fondly remembered the Weasley twins in that regard. It was a little easier to recall their mischievous grins these days than it had been in the past. Six years of healing went a long way. Even Molly was able to speak about Fred without breaking down.
Harry walked down the dank hallway toward the dungeons. After two years of teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, he sometimes still felt odd walking through Slytherin territory. But the new Potions professor was due to arrive the next day and Harry had been charged with helping him along. Professor Slughorn finally retired at the end of last term, but he wasn't exactly known for his orderly way of doing things.
Over the summer, the Potions room had been cleaned as was every other room in the castle. However, house elves were notorious for doing only what was minimally required. Anything left on the desks or the floor remained. And the cupboard that housed the ingredients was disorderly. Looking inside, Harry scratched his head wondering where to begin.
"Perhaps I'd better leave it to the new professor to decide how to organize this mess," he said to himself out loud. He knew it was a cop out, but he justified it nonetheless.
Returning to the classroom, he picked up spare books and shelved them, replaced quills and filled the ink pots and vanished any ingredients that had been left out.
Satisfied that it was tidy enough, Harry left for Headmistress McGonagall's office.
"Did you have a good summer, Harry?" She smiled fondly at him.
"Yes, prof-Headmistress. And you?"
"Please, Harry, we've been colleagues for two years now. Call me Minerva." She motioned for him to have a seat. "I would like to speak to you about the new Potions professor."
Her face took a slightly serious turn that made Harry a bit uneasy.
"What about him?" he asked as he sat down.
"First of all, I want to assure you that his credentials are in order and those of us on the Board considered his candidacy very seriously before agreeing. Almost unanimously."
"Neville Longbottom was the only nay."
"Oh." Harry sat with his hands in his lap. "May I ask who it is?"
"I'm sorry to keep you in the dark for so long on this subject, but the approval came just a few days ago," she explained. "I really wasn't certain which candidate would succeed."
She paused, clearly reluctant to tell Harry who would be teaching Potions.
"Draco Malfoy," she finally said.
Harry stood suddenly. "What? How?"
"Harry please sit. I'll explain."
He did as he was told.
"Mr. Malfoy put in his request at the beginning of the summer, as soon as Professor Slughorn announced his retirement. I have his letter if you'd like to read it." She held it out to Harry, who at first dismissed it.
"What makes him qualified to teach?"
"He excels in potion making," McGonagall smiled. "Even you have to admit that."
"However, he also completed courses in advanced potion making, apprenticed with a Master and spent several months student teaching at another wizarding school. Far more than you were required to do," the Headmistress reminded him.
Harry's head snapped up. He couldn't believe she had said that.
"I never asked for special treatment," he protested.
"And none was given. No one was more qualified when the board approved your hiring. Mr. Malfoy took it upon himself to take extra measures to insure that he would be taken seriously."
"And . . .you're all right with him being here?"
"Harry, when was the last time you saw Draco?"
"I don't know. I've seen him here and there over the past few years. Mostly in Diagon Alley, I suppose. Why?"
"I think you'll find he's not the same person that he was during the war. Please, read this." McGonagall handed him the letter again. This time he took it.
I hope this letter finds you well. I have appreciated your correspondence over the years and regret that I have not returned a letter in quite some time. I have been spending the past four months at Beauxbatons, student teaching Potions classes with Professor Olivier. This brings me to the reason for my letter. I have heard that Professor Slughorn has announced his retirement and I would like to be considered for the position. I realize that, as a former Death Eater, I am not going to be anyone's first choice. However, I have worked very hard to turn my life around, as you know. All I am asking is for a chance to pay forward the debt I incurred during and after the war. I will not let you down if I am given this opportunity.
Draco Malfoy, Potions Master
"Malfoy really wrote this?"
"And you've been in touch with him all this time? Why?"
"Because he reached out to me Harry. Because I couldn't turn my back on a former student in need. Any student, especially one so desperate to turn over a new leaf."
Harry looked over the letter again. "What debt is he talking about? Money?"
"No, Harry," she smiled. "I believe he's talking about you."
"Me?" Harry frowned.
"And others who fought on the right side. Those of you that fought so that he would have a chance at a better life. He can't really pay you back for what you've done. But he can teach the next generation to appreciate what they have and to stay on the right path."
"You got all that from this letter?"
Minerva smirked. "I've talked to Draco a few times this summer. And I presented him to the board."
Harry sat silently for a while, thinking about what McGonagall told him. The letter seemed sincere. And if the headmistress kept in touch with Malfoy all these years, perhaps he had changed. But that didn't necessarily mean that Harry wanted to see him every day or work with him.
"I know it may be difficult at first," McGonagall interrupted Harry's thoughts. "But I hope you'll give him a chance."
"Of course, Head-Minerva," Harry sighed lightly.
Harry left McGonagall's office and headed to his own quarters on the second floor. As he made his way down through the castle, Harry's mind wandered to Malfoy. He tried the remember exactly when he had seen the Slytherin last.
It must have been a year before Harry began his tenure as a professor at Hogwarts. He was sitting at a cafe, enjoying his lunch with Ron. He had been telling Ron about his dissatisfaction with being an Auror. Harry was growing weary of chasing down rogue Death Eaters and sending them off to Azkaban. Although he was helping to get them out of the wizarding and muggle public, Harry was unhappy with his job. Ron was sympathetic, yet still did his best to convince Harry to stick with it.
That was when Malfoy walked by. They caught one another's eye, and Malfoy nodded a silent acknowledgement.
Ron narrowed his eyes. "That's why you should stay in the Auror department. So people like him can't walk around free as a bleeding bird. I'll never understand why you defended him in the first place."
"He wasn't really a Death Eater," Harry said. "Sure, he had the tattoo, but even Dumbledore didn't believe his heart was in it. And he and his mum helped me when they didn't have to. In fact, they risked their lives to do it."
Ron managed to convince Harry to give it another year in the Ministry. But then the following year, Harry applied for a position at Hogwarts. The professor who had been teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts for the previous five years was ready to move on. Headmistress McGonagall practically leaped at the opportunity to have Harry back at Hogwarts. And Harry was glad to be back.
Until McGonagall told him that he would be working with Draco Malfoy.
As Harry settled in for bed that night, he chuckled to himself wondering what in Merlin's name Ron was going to say when he found out. Hermione would have some words of wisdom, Harry was certain. But the next day Harry would be on his own, with Malfoy.
The butterflies were churning in Harry's stomach as he waited by the gate for Malfoy to arrive. He was scheduled to reach the castle in only a few minutes. Half an hour later, Harry could see him as he approached the gate.
Malfoy looked different from the last time he had seen him. His platinum hair was longer, just past his shoulders and tied loosely into a ponytail. A few stray tendrils blew about in the gentle breeze. He appeared to be a little taller than Harry. But from the distance he wasn't certain. The man still sported dark and highly fashionable clothing, and he held himself in a manner becoming a wealthy pureblood.
As the new Potions professor drew nearer, Harry could see that one thing had changed drastically-Malfoy's eyes. No longer a scared young boy, nor a guilty Death Eater, his former rival looked at peace. There was even a glint in his stark grey eyes. He didn't look away, but kept his gaze on Harry, a small smile on his lips.
"Malfoy." Harry nodded. "I would have sent a carriage if I had known you weren't going to apparate directly to the gate."
"I enjoy walking. It helps to clear my mind."
Harry closed the gate and reset the charms, then led Malfoy toward the castle entrance.
Breaking the silence, Malfoy spoke as the entered. "You were expecting me, weren't you?"
"Yes," Harry answered. "McGona-Minerva informed me yesterday."
"And you're still here," Malfoy observed. "I wasn't sure how willing you would be to work with me."
Harry stopped walking and turned toward Malfoy, ready to retort with a defensive remark about his ability to behave like a professional. However, the expression on the other man's face was more apologetic than sarcastic.
"Oh, well," Harry swallowed his pride a little. "I wasn't sure at first. But . . . if you were willing to put our past behind us, then I guess I should give it a go."
Draco laughed. "To be honest, I didn't know you were a professor here until two days ago. I thought you were an Auror."
"I was," Harry explained. "Until two years ago. The DADA professor was leaving and I took over."
"You didn't like being an Auror?"
"I'd had enough adventure in my youth. I wanted something . . ."
Harry gave a small chuckle. "That wasn't the word I was going to use, but, yeah, I guess I did. Hogwarts has always felt like home to me. What about you? What were you doing before this?" Harry asked the question before he'd even realized they had been having the first normal conversation they'd ever had.
"Floundering," Malfoy answered honestly. "I apprenticed with an apothecary to become a Potions Master. But the prospect of owning my own shop was a bit overwhelming. In the meantime, I needed a job and a place to live. Hogwarts fit the bill."
So it's just a job, Harry thought. Well, at least Malfoy was honest.
Of course, there was the matter of the debt Malfoy felt he needed to repay. Harry thought it was best not to bring it up yet. They had been behaving civilly towards each other and he didn't want to rock the boat.
"Why have we come here?" Malfoy frowned when they reached a door on the sixth floor.
"I thought perhaps you'd like to put your bags in your quarters before going down to see the Potions room."
"My quarters aren't in the dungeons?"
"Uh, this is where Slughorn-"
"I assumed I was getting Snape's office," Malfoy snapped.
"These quarters are much nicer," Harry assured him. "The dungeons need a bit of work."
"I'm sure the ones in the dungeons are satisfactory. I used to live there, you know."
The old Malfoy seemed to make a brief appearance and Harry was somewhat taken aback. Quickly composing himself, Malfoy continued.
"It would be easier to have an office near the classroom. Don't you agree? Isn't your office near your classroom?"
"It's on the floor above," Harry answered, but quickly added. "I really think you'll be more comfortable in here."
Malfoy didn't budge from his spot when Harry opened the door.
"If I'm going to be the head of Slytherin, I should be near the students."
Harry sighed, and desperately tried not to roll his eyes. He closed the door. "Of course."
The pair walked in silence down to the Potions office. Harry had taken a peek into Snape's former quarters when he straightened up the classroom. He remembered thinking it would take months to make it livable.
When they walked in, Draco's heart sank. The office looked like it had been ransacked. Dusty books were scattered on the floor. There was a desk, but no chair. Ingredients had been left out, dried up and were now useless. Broken glass and loose papers littered every corner. The living quarters weren't in much better shape. It looked as though Snape's belongings had been picked through over the years until all that was left of the former Potions professor were a few boxes of personal items that nobody else felt were worth taking.
"I'm sorry," Harry said quietly. "I should have warned you."
Snapping out of his melancholy, Draco picked up a small knick knack and sighed heavily. "You tried," he said bitterly.
"The classroom isn't this bad," Harry said.
"Ever the optimist, Potter," Malfoy smirked.
Harry gave a sheepish grin but said nothing. He simply turned around and began walking toward the classroom.
Malfoy followed, and seeing that Harry was indeed correct about the room, set about rearranging things as he pleased. Harry stood awkwardly for a few moments before offering his help. Malfoy told him that he preferred to do it himself.
"I'll take your bags back up to Slughorn's, I mean, your quarters," Harry said.
Reluctantly, Draco agreed as there was no way he could get the classroom and Snape's quarters in order before the students arrived. He would have to settle for the sixth floor for the time being.
Just before Harry was out of sight, Draco called out a quick thanks. "For . . . everything."
Clicking his heels on the stone floor, Harry swiftly made his way up the stairs from the dungeons to the sixth floor to drop off Draco's bags. Thinking on how Draco thanked him sincerely, Harry figured he was speaking specifically about welcoming him into the castle and offering to help him get settled in. His former rival's face said it went much deeper than that.
Harry's mind was racing in a thousand different directions. Malfoy hadn't been precisely what he was expecting. There were glimpses of his arrogance and attitude. But generally speaking, he was a humbled version of his former self. His gratitude took Harry by surprise, leaving him feeling . . .
Harry wasn't sure what he was feeling. On one hand, memories of his rivalry with Malfoy surfaced; memories he hadn't pondered in years. On the other hand, he saw a possible ally, perhaps even a friend, in the man who showed up in the spoiled pureblood's place. As the youngest professors, and former classmates, it was easy to conceive that they would gravitate towards one another. Their interaction earlier convinced Harry that they would be able to work together.
No, working together would not be the problem, Harry decided. Keeping from ogling the junior Malfoy would be. Harry found himself turning away several times from Malfoy's gaze. His grey eyes seemed clear enough for Harry to see right into the man's soul. Or perhaps he was afraid that Malfoy would be able to see into his. The Slytherin always had a certain degree of intensity in his stare, but it was a different sort now. It wasn't cold any more.
Actually, it was quite hot.
Harry felt himself warm at that thought.
He feared the situation was worse than he originally thought, as he came to the conclusion that he found Draco Malfoy attractive.
It took Draco several hours to put the potions ingredients in the cupboard in an order to his liking. He made notes on which items were running low or were unusable. McGonagall told him she would order whatever supplies he needed straightaway.
He stretched and rolled his shoulders to release the tension from hunching over the desk. His stomach rumbled lightly and he wondered if he had been working so late that he missed supper. Pulling out his gold watch, he saw that the staff supper had begun twenty minutes prior. He hurried to the Great Hall hoping he could still get a bite to eat.
Draco felt a sense of nostalgia as he pushed open the overly large doors and stepped inside. The walk to the head table at the end seemed insufferably long. He could feel many pairs of eyes upon him but noticed that Harry was one of the few who didn't watch him.
McGonagall stood and smiled. "Everyone, may I introduce our newest Potions professor, Draco Malfoy."
"Thank you, Headmistress," Draco bowed shallowly.
"Please have a seat before the food is gone," she motioned for him to take the empty seat next to her. Professor Flitwick nodded politely at him, while Sibyll Trelawney, on the other side of Flitwick, smiled vacantly at him as if she hadn't recognized him at all.
"Good evening Professor Trelawney," he attempted a smile. "Professor Flitwick."
"Have you settled in yet, Mr. Malfoy?" Flitwick queried.
"No. I have not yet been to my quarters," he replied. "I was in the Potions class room preparing for students." Draco paused. "And, if you please, Mr. Malfoy is my father. Call me Draco."
"Hmm," was Flitwick's reply.
"Draco?" Trelawney leaned forward. "I thought you looked familiar."
When Draco angled forward to address her, he caught sight of Harry, who seemed to be staring at him then quickly looked away.
Trying to disregard his heightened awareness of Harry, he smiled at Sibyll. "Yes, I was one of your students. In Harry's year." He glanced Harry's way, but the brunette was busy pushing food around his plate.
"I remember," Trelawney said. "You seem quite different now."
"I am, thank you. Thanks to Headmistress McGonagall." He turned to nod to her.
"You made your own way," Minerva said.
Draco continued to carry on polite conversation with Professor Flitwick for the remainder of supper. Once in a while he peeked over at Harry, finding him gawking a bit.
At first, Harry was glad for his position at the table, three down from Draco. But after a while, he found himself leaning forward a bit more than necessary to speak with Professor Trelawney to his left. Harry's gaze traveled past her on occasion to get a glimpse of Malfoy. Several times, the Head of Slytherin glanced up, catching Harry, who couldn't avert his eyes fast enough. After the third or fourth time, Harry leaned back in his seat to avoid Malfoy altogether.
After supper, Harry walked alone back to the second floor attempting to convince himself that Draco wasn't all that attractive. There was no need for Harry to be behaving like a silly school boy. He was almost to his quarters when he heard foot steps behind him.
Harry whirled around to find Malfoy ascending the staircase.
"I, um," Draco began, seeming embarrassed. "It's been a while. I . . . I can't seem to remember where Slughorn's office was."
Standing and gaping, Harry was slow to respond.
"Would you mind showing me where it is again?"
"Sure, no problem," Harry answered. He waited for Malfoy to continue up the staircase. In an attempt to fill the awkward silence, Harry made small talk.
"Did you get the Potions room sorted out?"
"Yes. The room itself wasn't in bad shape, but the ingredients cupboard was a mess. Slughorn wasn't very organized. I almost fear what his quarters look like."
"Oh, they're quite nice. And roomy. Roomier than mine at any rate. Perfect for entertaining . . . er, that is if you have someone, I mean . . ." Harry rolled his eyes at his own inappropriateness, probing in to Malfoy's personal life.
A small smirk graced Draco's face. "Are you trying to find out if I have a boyfriend?"
"No," Harry answered quickly, blushing. "Slughorn used to host small parties, is all I'm saying."
The rest of the journey was silent, except for the voice in Harry's head berating him for being so transparent and disconcerted. Yet Malfoy came across as self-assured and comfortable in his own skin. The door was unlocked and Harry opened it for Draco to walk through.
"Lumos," Harry said, holding out his wand. The room was dimly lit, but bright enough for Draco to find some candles to light.
Once the room was sufficiently lit, Harry rummaged around in a desk drawer for the key to the room. "Aha, here it is. I think."
"What's that?" Draco asked.
"The key to the room," Harry replied.
"Oh, I was just going to lock it magically," Draco frowned.
"Slughorn was a bit paranoid. Had it charmed to open only with this. It's been left unlocked since he left though," Harry explained. "Here, you may as well keep it if you decide to re-charm the lock."
He held the key out. Draco stepped forward and reached for it, their fingers touching briefly. Harry noted that Draco's hands were soft, for a man.
"Thank you, again," Draco said. "I find myself saying that a lot since I've come back here."
Unsure how to respond, Harry proceeded to show Draco around the room.
"The private bath is through that door," Harry pointed. "This is the sitting room, obviously. And that door leads to the bedroom. He kept a private ingredients cabinet that I believe is still in there." He gestured to a door on the other side of the space.
"You seem to know an awful lot about Slughorn's chambers," Draco remarked.
"Well, I spent some time here. He's somewhat of a mentor. I was in the Slug Club, you know-" Harry cut himself off, thinking he sounded like an arrogant prick. "I only meant that I became rather close with him. After Dumbledore, Sirius and Remus were gone, I was a bit lost. Horace helped me a great deal."
Draco smiled, "You don't need to explain. I didn't mean to pry." After a few silent moments, he said, "I'm completely knackered. I guess I'll be off to bed."
"Right," Harry nodded. "I'll leave you to it, then. Good night."
As swiftly as he could without appearing to run, Harry left Draco's new chambers. He walked briskly down several staircases until finally reaching his own door. He gave the password and entered.
Immediately, he went to a small cabinet where he kept a bottle of firewhiskey and a carafe of mulled mead. He unstoppered the bottle and drank directly from it.
What is the matter with me? he wondered. You'd think I've never been attracted to someone before.
But he'd never been attracted to Malfoy before.
Harry was normally a take charge sort of bloke. He went to muggle pubs and had his pick of attractive young men. They'd find somewhere to go-a hotel, or possibly the other fellow's home- and shag. Occasionally, he'd find one of them compatible enough to see again. Perhaps even several times. Whatever happened, Harry was always in control.
So why the hell was he all of a sudden tongue-tied and anxious?