AN: Chapter 32. My sincere apologies for the long wait, and a thank you for your patience, but in my favour it is a nice long chapter. I had about two weeks off from writing to spend some time with a visiting friend I hadn't seen in a decade. But anyway, enough about me, I shall try to get the next chapter done much more promptly.
Please do come and chat with me on facebook. If you would like to be friends with me there, there is a link on my bio.
Warnings: Swearing, slash and Adult themes. For full warnings see story description.
Massive thanks to my beta, AchillesTheGeek.
(Note: This is the updated edited version of the chapter. Updated 29/05/16)
The sixth year students who were taking NEWT level potion classes made their way down to the dungeon without any real expectation of there actually being a potions lesson to attend, given that Professor Snape had now been absent for a whole week. Ron was already happily planning teams for many of them to go play quidditch in the free time and it was only by Hermione's insistence that he wasn't already half way down to the pitch, broom in hand.
So, when they reached the potions lab, it was with a fair degree of surprise that they saw the door to the classroom was actually open and that several students were entering the room ahead of them.
"Do you think Snape is back?" Harry asked, looking at Draco with a rather confused expression. He thought it seemed unlikely that the potions master would have returned to the school without Draco having heard about it. Though he supposed it was possible, if Narcissa hadn't known either, given that almost no-one was actually on speaking terms with Lucius Malfoy at the moment or knew what was going on with Snape.
"It is possible," Draco replied; though, by the expression on his face, Harry suspected that they were thinking along the same lines.
There was, however, only really one way for them to find out what was actually going on, and so Harry and Ron followed Hermione into the room, Draco, closely followed by Blaise and Pansy, just behind them. A few seconds later, Blaise collided with Draco's back, getting a face-full of purple wing feathers, and Pansy only narrowly missed crashing into Blaise in turn. The blond had stopped suddenly at the sight of a short, fat man with a grey walrus moustache standing behind the desk at the front of the room.
"Please take your seats," the unknown professor instructed firmly, bobbing up and down slightly as he rocked onto the balls of his feet, seemingly eager to begin the lesson. Hermione, oblivious to Draco's reaction, rushed to obey, taking a seat at the front of the room and dragging Ron along, insisting he take the seat next to her.
But Draco stood still. The blond was scowling at the stout old man at the front of the room. In Draco's eyes, at least, the stranger appeared to be attempting to replace Professor Snape. He was also quite sure that this would be on Dumbledore's orders; logically he understood the need for the potions classes to begin again but he found that his heart still couldn't help but resent this new man.
Blaise and Pansy, however, didn't seem particularly fazed by the unknown professor's presence and after both giving Draco strange looks for his reaction, went and sat a nearby empty table, two behind where Hermione and Ron were.
"Draco," Harry said, taking his boyfriend's hand and pulling on it gently to try and get his attention.
The contact sent the usual tingles of magic through Draco's body and helped the blond to shake off his momentary shock. He carefully schooled his face into a blank expression, but Harry didn't even need to consider reading his boyfriend's emotions to know that Draco was, at the very least, unsettled, if not actually upset, about seeing someone else taking charge of Professor Snape's potions lab. Recovering his equilibrium, Draco led Harry over to the desk in front of Pansy and Blaise and behind Ron and Hermione, moving out of the way of the last few students in their class, who had just arrived.
"Who are you?" Ron asked the unknown professor rather rudely, feeling a little put out that his perfectly good morning of Quidditch had been ruined. This attitude earned him a glare from Hermione; she certainly didn't think that there was ever a good reason to speak towards someone of authority so impolitely.
"I am Professor Horace Slughorn," the old portly man told him, stepping around the desk as the last few students took their seats. "I shall be your potions teacher for the time being. And you are Mr...?"
"Weasley, Ron Weasley," he replied, not quite sure what to make of Slughorn, though he was pretty much of the opinion that anyone had to be preferable to Snape.
"Well, Mr Weasley, as you can see, I have brewed three example potions. Perhaps you can identify at least one of these?" Slughorn instructed, waving a stubby hand in the direction of three cauldrons on a desk at the front of the room.
Ron grumbled under his breath but got up from his seat when Hermione gave him a rather hard nudge to the ribs with her elbow. He shoved his hands into his pockets and scowled as he stomped up to the front and peered into the first Cauldron, his disgruntled expression softening slightly as he examined the contents.
"Erm, Polyjuice potion," Ron told Slughorn hesitantly, and Harry smiled as he remembered exactly why his best friend was able to identify that particular potion so quickly and easily. "That's the one that makes you look like someone else," he said, keen to show off the small amount of knowledge of potions he did have.
"Yes, very good, Mr Weasley," Slughorn said a little pompously, eyeing Ron's uniform to identify which house he belonged to. "Five points to Gryffindor, I think. And the other two?" he asked eagerly.
"Errr..." Ron mumbled vaguely, as he peered into the next cauldron with bemusement.
"I can't believe Dumbledore has just replaced Professor Snape," Draco grumbled quietly to Harry, as Ron dithered at the front of the class.
"Well I guess he did have to get classes going again," Harry whispered back with a shrug of his shoulders. "I'm sure this is just a temporary thing, like when Grubbly-Plank teaches Care of Magical Creatures."
"I hope so. I don't like him," Draco said bluntly, narrowing his eyes at the teacher, who was now giving Ron several clues to try and help him guess, looking a little disappointed that Ron hadn't got it as quickly as the first.
"We've only been in his class for five minutes," Harry pointed out with an amused though rather incredulous expression on his face. "But I am sure neither his teaching nor potion making skills will ever match up to that of Professor Snape," he added when Draco turned to him with a rather pointed look on his face.
"You're just mocking me, aren't you?" Draco said, narrowing his eyes at his boyfriend, though there was no real anger in words, much to Harry's relief. "Just saying what I want to hear."
"Yes," Harry agreed, breaking out into a grin. "Yes I am," he agreed shamelessly, earning a punch on the arm from Draco, who returned his attention to the front of the room.
"OH!" Ron exclaimed suddenly with realisation. "This is that Veritaserum stuff, right?" he asked, pointing into one of the cauldrons. "No idea of the last one though," he admitted, scratching at his head a little nervously.
"Anyone else want to have a go at indentifying the final potion?" Slughorn asked sounding rather exasperated already, as he shooed Ron back towards his desk. Apparently he was not exactly impressed by Ron's ability, or rather lack thereof, to identify the three potions.
It was, of course, no surprise to anyone when Hermione's hand shot into the air. Harry was certain that Draco would have been able to identify all three potions with no trouble at all, but his boyfriend was quite content to sit back and let Hermione show off. Though that was probably far more to do with the fact that he neither wanted to co-operate with Slughorn nor get up from where he was sitting, than for Hermione's sake.
"Hermione Granger, Sir," Hermione answered quickly, all but jumping up from her chair to go up to the front and peer into the final cauldron. "This one," she said, inhaling deeply, "is Amortentia. A love potion, strongest one there is. You can recognise it from the sheen it has and from the spirals of steam rising off of it," she told him
"Very good," Slughorn said, looking delighted. "Granger... Granger?" he said thoughtfully. "Any relation to Hector Dagworth-Granger, the founder of the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers?" he questioned, looking rather excited at the prospect.
"Oh, I don't believe so, Sir," Hermione told him, looking rather surprised at the question. "I'm muggle-born."
"Oh," Slughorn said sounding disappointed, "well, never mind."
Hermione looked like she wasn't quite sure how to take that but Harry frowned at the casual prejudice, starting to agree more and more with Draco's dislike of the man. "Have five points for Gryffindor anyway," the professor added, as he gestured for Hermione to return to her seat next to Ron.
"Now," he said, clapping his hands together, "today we will be brewing the Draught of Living Death..." he told them, earning a chorus of groans from the class, who were aware of just how very difficult that particular potion was to get right.
It had been a long lesson and, even with Draco standing next to him giving him guidance, Harry had not managed to get anywhere close to getting the potion right; not that many of the class had, to be fair. Draco had seemed determined to prove himself and as a result won a small vial of something called Felix Felicis. Slughorn had referred to as liquid luck and, though Harry didn't quite follow what it did; he knew it was something truly special, however, from both Ron's obvious jealousy and Draco's far subtler delight at the reward.
Hermione had come close but even she was looking rather frazzled by the end of the class, and despite feeling a little put out at having been beaten to the prize by Draco, she couldn't resent his victory for long when she saw just how brilliantly he had brewed the Draught of Living Death. Slughorn too had been impressed and nothing short of delighted by Draco's achievement.
"I think you have definitely shown yourself worthy of a place in my Slug Club," the professor declared suddenly, approaching the table where Harry and Draco had been working as everyone was packing away their bags to leave for lunch. Slughorn was smiling at the blond as though Draco should have been thanking him for granting him such a high honour; though, from the confused expression on his boyfriend's face, Harry figured that Draco was no wiser than he on what that meant exactly. "Of course you will be invited too, Mr Potter. Quite the couple you make," Slughorn went on to say when Draco didn't respond.
"Erm, thanks," Harry said hesitantly, seeing Ron shrug his shoulders behind the professor's back. It was all fairly creepy in Harry's opinion, particularly the way that Slughorn was rubbing his hands together gleefully.
"We really have to be going, sir," Draco said in clipped tones of forced politeness, handing Harry both of their bags and taking his boyfriend's hand. "We don't want to be late for lunch, dear," he added to Harry, putting emphasis on the endearment, when his boyfriend showed no sign of moving.
Harry turned to him and gave him a bemused look. He didn't think he had ever heard Draco call him 'dear' before, nor was it something he had ever expected to hear, but when he met the blond's eyes he could see the amusement there and so just rolled his eyes before turning back to the potions master.
"Sorry, Sir, but Draco is right, we really must be going," he said with a pleasant smile as he led them from the room before Slughorn had a chance to say anything else; Pansy, Blaise, Hermione and Ron, who had waited to see what the new professor wanted, following them.
"Oh, right, yes, of course," they heard Slughorn say to his now empty classroom as they left.
"I don't like him," Draco reiterated, making Harry chuckle in amusement. The stubborn loyalty to Snape that Draco was showing, which once would have infuriated Harry, now just endeared the blond to him.
"He seemed knowledgeable to me," Hermione said disapprovingly, frowning at Draco's assessment of the man. She had certainly learned plenty in the lesson and found the man significantly more approachable than Professor Snape, even if he was a little bit odd.
"And anyone is an improvement over grumpy, greasy, dungeon-bat, Snape," Ron said with a grin, looking between the others waiting for them to start laughing or at least nodding their agreement.
He was sorely disappointed though when Hermione simply rolled her eyes, Pansy and Blaise stared at him for a moment and Draco gave him a death glare. Harry laughed, but it was quite clearly more at Draco's reaction that to what Ron had said.
"All I'm saying is that at least Slughorn hasn't decided to fail half the class before we have even gotten into the room," Ron tried again, but Pansy and Blaise simply shook their heads and hurried off ahead of the rest of them towards the Great Hall. Draco gave an indignant huff of annoyance before he dropped Harry's hand and headed quickly off after his friends.
"Sorry, mate," Harry said with a wry smile, hitching the two book bags back up onto his shoulder as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "You're fighting a losing battle there. Those Slytherins think far too highly of Snape."
Hermione nodded her agreement with that. "You do have a point though, Ron," she said supportively, "Slughorn did seem to be at least a fair teacher. But you have to remember that Professor Snape is still their head of house and has been for the last six years."
"Besides, it isn't particularly fair that Snape has just been replaced so quickly," Harry said, actually feeling a little bad for the man. There were some fairly serious extenuating circumstances and Harry just hoped that their original potions master would be allowed to return to his post when he was ready to.
"I can't believe you are actually defending Snape," Ron exclaimed, shaking his head in disapproval.
"Nor can I," Harry muttered under his breath, wondering
"I thought I was dealing with the whole Malfoy thing pretty well, but now I am supposed to be nice to Snape too?" He shook his head again and, not actually wanting to get into a fight with Harry, he hurried on ahead, in the same direction that the three Slytherins had gone just moments earlier.
"It might have been nice to let him revel in not having classes with Professor Snape at least a little bit, Harry," Hermione told him, though she had a soft smile on her lips and sympathy in her eyes.
"You're probably right," Harry admitted. Everything was just so different now and, no matter how weird it was, Harry considered Snape a better and more reliable ally than he did Dumbledore at the moment. It was sometimes easy to forget that, while he and Draco had changed, those around them had not; Ron wouldn't be able to move past the bitterness from before as Harry had, or at least not as quickly.
"Don't worry too much," Hermione told him, giving him a nudge with her elbow and Harry turned to see the wry smile she was giving him. "Ron just needs some time. It'll work out, you'll see."
"I hope you're right," Harry said as they reached the Great Hall. He gave her another smile and watched her head in the direction of the Gryffindors, before he headed over to the Slytherin table to have lunch with his boyfriend, leaving Hermione to try to talk Ron out of his latest mood. He might have tried to talk to Ron himself, but he and Draco had learned the hard way that it was a bad idea for them not to make the most of the lunch hour for magical energy transfers between them.
"What's up with Weasley?" Draco asked, gesturing with the handle of his knife towards the Gryffindor table as Harry took the seat next to him.
Harry turned and quickly found himself facing the annoyed glare of his red-headed best friend. He sighed. "I might not have been quite as disparaging about Snape as Ron would have liked me to be," he admitted. "What?" he asked when he realised that Draco, Pansy and Blaise were all staring at him. "It isn't like I said anything actually nice about Snape; I just commented that him being replaced so quickly might not have been particularly fair."
"Good job, Potter," Draco said happily, a genuine smile on his lips. "You stood up for Snape and aggravated Weasley in one go. I am very proud of you," he added, patting Harry's shoulder in a deliberately condescending manner.
"Prat," Harry said with chuckle and a roll of his eyes, shrugging Draco off.
A moment later though, he put his own hand on Draco's leg to allow his boyfriend's body and their child access to his magical energy, using his free hand to serve himself some lunch. Draco almost melted into him at the touch, as the energy flowed. Normally, the blond took great care to keep his wings folded behind him so as not to knock someone with them, but the tingling of magical energy had one almost instinctively moving to stroke Harry's back. Harry turned to smile at his boyfriend, enjoying the sensation of feathers through the back of his robes.
"I will let you collect your reward later," Draco whispered, placing a chaste kiss on Harry's lips; and when the blond pulled back and returned his attention to his lunch, Harry was left with a dopey grin upon his face.
The Gryffindors had Herbology directly after lunch and so, as they always did, they got up to head to class together. Most of them had wanted to wait for Harry, but Ron was still in his bad mood and was having none of it; he had barely stopped complaining about Harry and Draco long enough to actually eat.
"Honestly, Ron, I don't think it is as bad as you are making it out to be," Neville said in a calm tone, as he walked between the red-head and Seamus on his way to Herbology; Hermione and Dean on the other side of the Irishman.
"He defended Snape, and then you saw him laughing at me with those... Slytherins." He practically spat the last word out as though it was the worst insult he could imagine. "And Malfoy feeling him up with his weird wings, and kissing him in front of us all," he went on. "This is all Malfoy's doing," he told them firmly, as they exited the castle and started making their way across the grounds towards the greenhouses.
"You are being ridiculous," Hermione told him curtly, a frown on her face. Up till now, she had been impressed with how well Ron had been handling everything about Malfoy over the last three and a half months. She had expected a fight of this nature to occur at some point but it seemed ludicrous to her that it was over Professor Snape of all people. "Harry wasn't saying that he actually liked Professor Snape, Ron, he was merely being understanding of his boyfriend's perspective on the matter," she pointed out.
"Well... that's half the problem isn't it," Ron argued back. "It is always about what Malfoy thinks now, as though the Harry we knew is just... He's letting Malfoy walk all over him!" Ron finished, crossing his arms over his chest and storming off ahead of them.
"You don't think that's true, do you?" Seamus asked, wondering if they really were losing the Harry they knew and loved to the blond Slytherin.
"Don't be stupid, Seamus," Dean said with a shake of his head. "Harry is still Harry, if anything it is Malfoy who has really changed; when was the last time you saw him picking on anyone?"
"I think they have both changed," Neville said, clearly thinking on it hard. "It makes sense though, they are in a relationship; they are compromising now that they can understand and even feel what the other is thinking and feeling."
"Well said, Neville," Hermione praised him with a smile that he returned.
Harry was not surprised that Ron hadn't waited for him, but he was a little hurt that the rest of the Gryffindors had left with Ron; he could see them walking a short way ahead.
The Slytherins didn't have Herbology with the Gryffindors, and Draco had a free period; the blond had decided to use the time to go and write to his mother about Slughorn's appointment to the Hogwarts faculty. So Harry was alone as he made his way across the ground quickly, hoping to catch up with his housemates.
"He's letting Malfoy walk all over him!"
Ron's shout carried on the wind and stopped Harry in his tracks. Did Ron really believe that? he wondered. He supposed he must do if he was shouting it at the others so emphatically. It wasn't true of course, Harry knew that, but it wasn't exactly nice to hear that his supposedly best friend thought it was.
He would talk to Ron later, or maybe see if Hermione would talk to him for him, though Harry already knew that she wouldn't agree to that; maybe she would agree to be present though, to help keep Ron from completely losing his temper.
It was infuriating that once again he had to defend himself against what Ron had decided he was doing wrong. He didn't feel that he should have to, but that seemed to be how their friendship worked: something happened to Harry, he dealt with it as best he could and then Ron would over-react and find some way to blame everything on him.
Wrapping his arms around himself against the cold and hitching his bag higher up on his shoulder, Harry started moving towards the greenhouses again; he was not looking forward to an hour of being glared at by Ron, but Harry was grateful to see, when he arrived, that Dean had saved a space for Harry next to him.
"Are you well, ma chérie?" Adrian asked, as he observed the pinched expression on Narcissa's face as she read the letter that had arrived.
"Hmm?" Narcissa hummed, turning to look up at her lover, who was standing in the doorway to the drawing room, a book in his hand. "Sorry, yes, thank you; I am just fine," she assured him, giving him a smile as he came and sat on the sofa next to her. She really did enjoy being with someone who showed a genuine interest in her life and well-being. "It's from Draco," she explained, folding up the letter and placing it on the table in front of her.
"Iz 'e well?" Adrian questioned with sudden concern; though Narcissa seemed far too calm for anything serious to have occurred. "You look… ah... pensive, ma chérie."
"Oh, he is quite well, he assures me, he and Harry both," she assured him. "This is about Severus, and I am afraid that once again I must make a visit to speak with him."
"You do what you must, Narcissa," he told her, placing a kiss on the back on her hand that he held gently in his own. "I shall amuse myself with my books," he assured her, raising the one of his lap to make his point, "but I will eagerly await your return, for it is absence which makes ze 'eart grow fonder."
Narcissa chuckled lightly, allowing him to place a not entirely chaste kiss upon her lips before she took her leave and flooed, once again, back to England.
"I understand the need for this school to have a potions master, Albus," McGonagall said sharply, "but I am rather confused as to the secrecy involved with Horace's appointment."
She had come to the headmaster's office as soon as the day's lessons had been completed, having heard news of Professor Horace Slughorn teaching potions from some of her students. And now she found herself standing next to Remus, Tonks, Filius and Pamona, across the desk from the perpetually composed Albus Dumbledore.
"It is less that I was concealing this from any of you, Minerva," he responded calmly, with a pleasant smile upon his lips, "and more that it is a matter that I was not sure that it would come to fruition at all until the rather late hours of last night."
"Oh?" Pomona prompted, her curiosity piqued. She had rather been under the impression, as all of them had, that Horace had no desire to return to his post at the school and so she was extremely interested to know what had happened to encourage the man back to Hogwarts.
"Quite," Albus said, with a subtle nod of his head. "Horace was rather elusive and took some persuading." He wasn't about to elaborate on his reasoning for going to such lengths to hire the former potions master, nor the methods he had adopted. It was not information that he felt he needed to share with the staff gathered before him.
"We still have not been informed as to why Severus has stepped down," Filius pointed out. They had each asked after him several times over the last week, worried by their colleague's unexplained absence, but the Headmaster had remained stubbornly silent in that regard.
"It is a personal matter that I am not at liberty to disclose," Albus said sternly, making it as clear as he could with the expression he was wearing that this was not up for debate.
McGonagall's lips were pinched thin; it was clear that she was holding back things she had to say. She considered Severus a friend and was not best pleased on being kept in the dark on whatever was bothering or troubling the normally unshakable man. She was also rather suspicious that the Headmaster was keeping something from them; Albus was never the most forthcoming of colleagues, and it felt there was more to this story than they were being told.
"Now," Albus said, smiling warmly, "I wish to speak with Remus and Tonks for a moment, if you would all be so kind." The dismissal in his words was clear to the heads of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw; and it was clear that there would be no further information coming from the Headmaster, even if they had not quite gotten the answers they were after.
Filius and Pomona left promptly, having a quiet discussion between themselves. Minerva waited only a few seconds more before accepting the futility of trying to get Albus to tell her anything else and following after her colleagues. Remus took Tonks' hand, going to follow her but the Headmaster had other ideas.
"I would like a word, if you would wait a moment longer," Dumbledore requested. Remus shared a look with his girlfriend, before the two of them took their seats as Dumbledore conjured a matching pair of armchairs in front of his desk. "I wished to ask after our guest," the Headmaster informed them, leaning forward to peer at them closely.
"I have mostly let the house elves deal with him," Remus admitted. He had made no secret about not really wanting to care for Lucius Malfoy, so he felt no guilt for not attending to the man personally.
"He is a rude and arrogant man," Tonks interrupted, still unhappy about the manner in which her uncle had been forced into her life without any chance for her to protest the situation. She loved Remus, more than he tended to accept to be true, but this was testing her patience sorely.
"Tonks, I wish you wouldn't speak with him, he only says the things he does to upset you," Remus said pleadingly, with the exasperated tone of someone tired of repeating themselves. Tonks scowled at him, her hair darkening a few shades as Remus turned to the Headmaster. "Malfoy doesn't say much to me, other than to complain about the quality of the meals he has been provided with. I believe the words he used were 'cruel and inhuman form of torture'."
"He's a complete drama queen," Tonks muttered under her breath, taking a deep calming breath when the two men turned to look at her. "He has probably only deemed us worthy of hearing him speak at all because he has no other visitors; not even Draco."
Dumbledore hummed softly, inclining his head in a slight nod. "I do believe that Narcissa has requested that Draco not be allowed to speak with his father for the time being," the Headmaster explained. "And given that both Draco and Harry have quite enough on their young minds for the time being, I believe this to be the best course of action."
"I agree," Remus said firmly, glad to see any distance put between Harry's mate and Lucius. Tonks nodded her agreement as well, pleased to see that it was the young boys' well being that was being placed as the priority, in this regard at least.
"Very well, I think we can leave it at that," Dumbledore said, clapping his hands together gently. "Unless there was anything else that either of you wished to discuss?" The two of them shook their head, and the Headmaster smiled at them fondly. "I trust, of course, that you will inform me if there is any change in the situation?" he added, eyeing both of them over the top of his spectacles as they got to their feet.
"Of course, Albus," Tonks said firmly, clearly not in the best of moods, and she headed straight for the door.
Remus nodded his head to the Headmaster, letting him know that they really would keep him informed before hastily following his girlfriend; neither Remus nor Tonks had any intention of tolerating Lucius for a moment longer than they had to, that was something they had had no trouble agreeing on.
"Severus?" Narcissa called out as she stepped out of the floo into her friend's house at Spinner's End. "Are you moping about still?" she asked as she stepped into the library, unsurprised to find him sitting in there, reading.
"I was enjoying my seclusion, Narcissa," he informed her, looking up from the book on his lap to meet her eyes, a stern expression on her face as she sat herself in the chair next to him. There were a few moments of silence, during which Severus turned back to his book, before Narcissa spoke.
"I don't suppose you have heard anything from Dumbledore?" she asked.
Severus looked up once more, surprise and confusion on his face; Narcissa smiled knowing she was one of the few who the man showed his emotions to so openly. "I heard nothing," Severus informed her. "Though," he went on, "my wards to prevent owls are in still place. I am admittedly curious as to how you bypassed those."
"By simply transforming something that is not an owl, so that it appears to be one," she told him with a small smile. "Your wards might keep out owls, Severus, but they offered no resistance to a transfigured comb. But now, my friend, I shall not be distracted from this conversation so easily."
Severus chuckled lightly at that, admittedly impressed by the simplicity of Narcissa's solution and her determination to discuss whatever it was that had brought her back from Paris once again. "I have received no attempts at communication from Albus," he informed her after a few moments, closing his book and placing it on the table next to him so as to grant her his full attention.
"Then I suppose that Horace Slughorn's return to Hogwarts will come as much as a surprise to you as it did to Draco," she said, a pleasant smile still soft upon her face; although Severus could see her watching him curiously, awaiting his reaction.
"Indeed, this is news to me," Severus confirmed. "But I was aware that Albus would have to acquire another potions master to replace me in due time."
"In due time, Severus," Narcissa said, a little indignantly, "it has been a week. I am, of course, not certain about the permanence of the position that Slughorn has been offered, but that Dumbledore has done nothing to inform you..."
"I do not believe that Slughorn will have any desire to remain in that post for any length of time," Severus told her as he contemplated the matter. "I remember that he was quite keen on the prospect of retirement when he relinquished his post to me," he recalled. "It would seem likely to me that Slughorn was offered some motivation to return."
"You think that Dumbledore manipulated him into returning?" Narcissa asked, surprised by the suggestion. It had not occurred to her that there might be anything more to the staffing change than was apparent on the surface, and she had acted purely in what she believed to be her friend's interests by informing him as soon as possible. "How would Dumbledore have achieved such a thing?"
"I think it is a possibility that we must consider. And the more pressing question than how, is why," Severus said, relaxing back in his armchair, his gaze slightly distant and he contemplated the situation. "I am unclear what purpose Slughorn would serve in Dumbledore's plans," he admitted. "Perhaps I shall write to our esteemed Headmaster and discuss my return after all."
It was not the motivation that Narcissa had intended to use to spur Severus out of his morose and isolated state, but nevertheless she smiled subtly, pleased to see some life in her friend's eyes once more.
Remus rapped his knuckles firmly against the open door of the potions lab, as he cautiously stepped inside. "Professor?" he called out, and smiled when he saw the portly teacher at the front of the room, glad that he would not have to go to any great lengths to seek the man out.
Slughorn had been the man who had taught him potions and so it gave him an oddly nostalgic feeling to see him in the classroom again.
"Ah, Mr Lupin, I had heard you were living in the school," Slughorn said, turning from where he was sorting papers on his desk to greet his former student. "Most wise; a safe residence is, of course, a highly prized gift in these... complicated times," he said, a strained expression on his face.
"I suppose so," Remus agreed, not having really considered the matter. Of course it was known that Hogwarts was one of the safest locations to be, it was why they were so insistent that both Harry and Draco remained in the castle, but he had come to the school for Harry's sake, rather than for his own.
"You always did know the value of the right friends, Mr Lupin," Slughorn said.
Remus furrowed his brow slightly, remembering that this was something that the potions master had praised him for a great many years ago; he had implied that James and Sirius were well chosen to keep him in favour of those that mattered despite his lycanthropy. Of course that had never been his motivation for being their friend, but even in his teenage years, Remus had decided to let the man believe what he would.
"And I hear you have taken up with a rather lovely young Auror; friends in high places, indeed," the portly man went on, looking almost impressed.
"Tonks is a very special woman," Remus said, feeling the need to defend his lover; he certainly was not with her for any reason other than the person she was. "Her career as an Auror is neither here nor there," he explained curtly.
"Hmm, indeed," Slughorn said, with obvious scepticism."Now, is there some way in which I can help you?" he asked, puffing himself up importantly.
"Oh, not particularly, sir," Remus replied, the formality slipping off his tongue out of habit rather than respect, having never before spoken to the man as anything other than his professor. "It was just... I was under the impression that you were enjoying your retirement."
"Yes, well," Slughorn said, seeming a little uncomfortable as the unspoken question. "Retirement is only enjoyable when you are able to relax, when you are confident in the safety of your own home," he said a little stiffly.
"You were attacked?" Remus asked, his mind spinning with questions and possible scenarios.
"Well I am a very prestigious potions master, you know," Slughorn said proudly, "there are many who would highly value my knowledge."
"Of course," Remus agreed, thinking that it was likely that Slughorn was not just talking about just someone with a casual passing interest in potion brewing and that those that had left the man feeling unsafe might be highly dangerous. Of course the timing was suspicious. "Anyway, welcome back to Hogwarts, I will leave you to your evening," he said, thinking he needed time to think; and to speak with Harry.
"Harry," Remus called out loudly, when he spotted the boy heading along a corridor towards the Grand Staircase, the tips of distinctive purple wings next to him indicating Draco's presence, despite the numerous students around them both. "A word?" he requested, when those green eyes turned to look his way.
It took a few moments for Harry to navigate his way through the general flow of students travelling along the corridor and reach Remus, though when he had managed it Remus was unsurprised to see Draco at his side.
"Is everything okay, sir?" Harry asked, as Remus lead them off down a quieter corridor in the direction of the rooms that he shared with Tonks.
"Hmm?" the professor hummed vaguely, turning to look at the pair walking next to him. "Oh, yes, nothing to worry about, I just wished to speak with you about something," Remus assured them.
Harry shared a concerned look with Draco as they followed behind the werewolf; Remus was unusually distracted and they were curious, not to mention a little worried, about what he might have to tell them.
However, they remained silent for the few minutes it took them to reach Remus' quarters. And then for a few more of the sofa, while the professor bustled around the room, until they were all comfortably settled with cups of tea that Remus had insisted they needed.
"Remus, what's this about?" Harry asked, realising that his father's old friend was deliberately delaying the moment that he had to speak whatever was on his mind, something that was only making both Harry and Draco more concerned.
Remus placed his cup on the coffee table before looking up to meet Harry's eyes. "I spoke with Professor Slughorn this evening, and I find myself a little suspicious about his reasons for being here."
"In the castle you mean?" Draco asked, his interest piqued by the discussion of the unwelcome staffing change.
"Yes, sort of," Remus told them, "though that is not what concerns me. Professor Slughorn openly admitted that he has taken up residence here for his own safety; he said that his retirement wasn't worth anything if he didn't feel safe in his own home."
"You think that someone is after him?" Harry asked, wondering who would have anything to gain from attacking an old potions teacher.
"You think that there might be Death Eaters after him?" Draco asked, his voice a little shaking and he couldn't help glancing towards the door which hid his father.
Harry reached out and clasped Draco's hand in his own; he carefully let out his green feathered wings to wrap them around them both, knowing that his boyfriend somehow found comfort in them. Sure enough Draco sighed and subtly leaned back against the wing behind him.
"I believe that Professor Slughorn believes that Death Eaters are after him," Remus said, watching the interaction between the two boys fondly. "Dumbledore said that it was only last night that Professor Slughorn agreed to return and take up the post of potions master..."
"Which means that yesterday, something motivated him to accept a position at Hogwarts," Draco said slowly, mulling it all over. "So you believe he was attacked last night?" Draco asked, leaning forward and resting his arms against his knees, his brain spinning as he clued into what the man before him was getting at.
"That's some convenient timing," Harry said with a frown, making the other two turn to him. "I mean, Dumbledore needs a potions master and suddenly Slughorn gets attacked..."
"Precisely, Harry," Remus said, looking worried.
"You are wondering if it actually was Death Eaters who attacked Slughorn and scared him into coming here," Draco said, leaning back into Harry's side again.
"That I am," Remus said thoughtfully, picking up his tea, leaning back against the sofa and taking a sip. "I think we need to understand Dumbledore's true motivations for bringing Slughorn here."
"He isn't just here to teach?" Harry asked, feeling as though he was missing something.
"I am starting to wonder if there is more to all of this than meets the eye, Harry," Remus said, a hint of worry in his voice. "Just please, be careful," he requested, Harry and Draco both nodding their agreement; that they needed to be wary of Dumbledore was not exactly breaking news to either of them but they would heed the warning nonetheless.
Please do take a moment to leave me a review and let me know your thoughts. It really will make my day and I respond to every review left. Or join me on facebook (see my profile page)
Also, thank you for everyone who favourited or followed me or my story, and to those who took the time to leave me their thoughts. You guys are all amazing.