Draco lay back on the padded bench in the empty waiting room, his stomach cramping with nerves. His jaw ached from how tightly it was clenched, and his fingers drummed a constant rhythm on his thigh. He hated that he couldn't seem to control his anxious ticks, but it wasn't as if there was any reason to at the moment; he was completely alone. Draco knew that wouldn't be the case for long, though. In his agitated state, Draco had shown up a full hour ahead of schedule, but that was forty minutes ago now. The rest of his group would be arriving any minute.
Josh chose that moment to come bursting through the metal door, the sound nearly toppling Draco off his bench in surprise. Josh was a big bloke, with light brown hair and intense, dark brown eyes. He was only a couple of inches taller than Draco, but almost twice as wide—all muscle. Josh could be intimidating at first glance, but he was one of the kindest people Draco had ever met. Still, he was a noisy fucker, and Draco was...on edge. He glared, and Josh grinned in response, though his eyes were assessing as he sat on one of the chairs next to Draco. A lot of people were quick to dismiss Josh as brawn over brain, but he was incredibly perceptive. He wouldn't be here if he wasn't.
"We don't have to do this you know," Josh said, his tone carefully casual. "You can still back out."
Draco scoffed. "At the last minute? And force everybody to stay behind with me and miss out on this opportunity? Or worse, stay behind alone while you all have a year of adventures without me?" Draco shook his head. "No thank you." He paused, biting his lip, before continuing in his own deceptively light tone, "Besides, it's not like we'll get Great Britain, is it?"
"Nah, 'course not," Josh said hastily, quick to reassure. "There're a ton of other countries taking part in the exchange. The chances of us getting sent to London are miniscule."
Draco tried to let Josh's words comfort him, but his stomach still bubbled and frothed with nerves. "And Madison met with Head Auror Davis?" Draco confirmed, unable to stop poking at the source of his discomfort. "She definitely requested that we not be sent to London?"
"You know she did, Dray. He said he didn't have any say in the placement, but that he would lodge the request. Stop worrying, it'll be fine." Josh spoke confidently.
"I'm not worried." Draco snapped. "And don't call me that." He glanced up, immediately feeling guilty for his harsh tone when Josh was only trying to be a good friend, "Sorry. Maybe I'm a bit...apprehensive. But that's to be expected with a move like this. I'm not any more concerned than you are." Of course, the problem was that Draco knew that Josh wasn't nearly as sanguine about the whole affair as he wanted to seem for Draco's sake. There wasn't any guarantee about where they'd be placed.
Draco's cohort was so excited to participate in the pilot of the Auror Trainee exchange programme. Countries all over the world had committed to participating, each of them sending a team of six Auror Trainees abroad, and accepting a team of six others in turn. A whole year spent in a foreign country, learning about the differences in magical law enforcement, and fostering a better working relationship between offices. Apparently the original idea had been to do the exchange with fully trained Aurors, but there was far too much hesitation at the idea of each country having to give up part of their Auror force in exchange for foreign replacements of uncertain ability. In the end, they'd all agreed that sending trainees instead was a much better solution, and would allow the program to work much like academic exchanges between the various magical schools. It really was was an amazing opportunity.
Of course, some cities and countries were considered more desirable than others, and to avoid any bias, none of the participating teams were to be told their destination before they arrived. It was all a little too cloak and dagger for Draco's tastes, and once he'd seen that London was taking part in the exchange, Draco had been determined not to participate.
Unfortunately, the rest of his cohort desperately wanted to go. The six of them had formed a strong bond over the past two years of training, and the fact that the programme was specifically requesting teams of six was clearly a sign from above. None of them wanted to leave Draco behind, and Draco was reluctant to force his friends to miss out on such an amazing opportunity because he was afraid. Part of the reason he'd decided to become an Auror in the first place was to prove to himself and the world that he wasn't a coward. That he'd changed.
Eventually he'd agreed, specifically after Madison had told him that she'd make sure to put in a request that they be sent anywhere but London if possible. London was considered a prime location, so surely there'd be no reason to send a team there that had specifically requested to go somewhere else, would there? There were twenty Auror divisions participating in the programme after all, and London was only one of those options. Of course, Seattle was another one of those options, which bought the odds down to one in nineteen—not as low as Draco would like, but he tried not to dwell on that fact.
"That's the spirit!" Josh grinned, clearly hoping some of his enthusiasm would rub off on Draco. He couldn't help but crack a smile. Draco didn't want to be the gloomy cloud that rained on everybody's parade. Of course, living in Seattle, they were well used to grey skies and damp weather.
"I'm actually quite excited to do some traveling again. It's been years since I've been outside the country," Draco ventured, hoping to bring a positive light back to their impending trip.
"Totally!" Josh enthused. "I'm definitely excited to get out of the States and—" the rest of Josh's sentence was lost in a cacophony of noise as the rest of their team came piling in through the loud metal doors.
Sarah was first through, balancing a loaded cardboard coffee tray carefully in one hand. She often kept her hair in tight cornrow braids—she said it was easier to keep it tightly bound while they were training—but today it was loose and circled her head like a dark, fuzzy halo. It must be raining outside, because water droplets clung to the corkscrew strands like fresh dew. Sarah made a face as some of the water slid down her temple. It wasn't like her to forget to cast a water repelling charm, but she must have had her hands full with the coffee. Or maybe she was nervous, too. She made her way over to Draco and Josh, dodging Zach and Matt as they dragged their luggage through the door. She smiled ruefully as she passed over a black coffee for Josh and a nonfat cappuccino for Draco.
"We thought we'd pick you guys up something on our way over."
"You are a goddess," Josh responded emphatically, taking a large gulp of the hot beverage.
Zach and Matt settled into the chairs across from them, arguing about something that Draco couldn't quite follow. Sarah joined them, half sitting on Zach's lap as she shrunk down all of their baggage with a wave of her hand. Draco took a sip of his cappuccino, grateful for her thoughtfulness as the beverage warmed him up.
Madison, her own hot coffee in hand, was last through the door, and she made like a Bludger straight for Draco, picking his feet up off the bench, before sliding in beneath them. Her blonde hair was pulled back up in a ponytail, and even though it was five in the morning and she was clearly tired, her tanned skin seemed to glow with health and vitality. Draco had always envied that about her. His own skin looked sickly and pale under the harsh fluorescent lights in the waiting room. Of course, it didn't help matters that he'd slept maybe two hours in total the night before.
"You ready?" she murmured, just loud enough for Draco and Josh to hear.
The three of them had met during their last year at Baesany, one of the American wizarding schools located high in the Cascade Mountain Range. Draco had transferred there after the war, and he, Josh, and Madison had all become fast friends. Possibly the first real friends Draco had ever had. Draco had told his entire cohort the basic details about his past, wanting to be as upfront and honest as possible. Josh and Madison were the ones who knew the most, though, the ones who knew all his dirty secrets. Well, most of them anyway.
"You know, I rather think I am," Draco replied, feeling much more relaxed than he had when he'd first arrived. Surrounded by his friends, Draco felt like he could take on the world. Besides, it was extremely improbable that they'd be sent to Britain. Much more likely was they would all be off for a year of fun and excitement abroad.
Josh grinned and raised his coffee cup. "To adventure!" he called out.
The six of them raised their cups in turn and bumped them together—delicately, of course, to avoid spills.