Draco watched Headmistress McGonagall’s profile as they walked side by side through Hogwarts, saying little. The witch next to him would speak occasionally, pointing out something of note as they passed it: how Bartholomew the Bizarre’s portrait had been moved to the third floor, or that there had been an incident in the Ancient Runes corridor last year and it had to be blocked off indefinitely (apparently the floor still melted your shoes if you tried to walk on it), or other things that had changed.
But mostly, Draco noted, things were the same as he remembered. After the war Hogwarts had been fully restored to its former glory: turrets, staircases, suits of armor, and all. It even smelled the same: like fresh ink, old parchment, damp stone, and potent teenage pheromones.
Memories were accosting him from all sides, bright and sharp, painful even, and so he watched McGonagall’s profile to distract himself, wondering how it was possible for someone to look years older and yet exactly the same all at once.
“Your quarters, Professor Malfoy,” she said after she stopped them in front of a small wooden door on the fourth floor. “I hope you will find them to your liking.” She concentrated on the small brass knocker on the door, which slowly opened its bleary eyes to look at her. “Draconis,” she said to it, and the door swung open. She gestured him inside.
“Feel free to set your own password for the door,” she told him as he looked around the cozy space. “That was simply a placeholder. And you can certainly transfigure the furniture to your liking.”
He nodded, taking in the armchairs by the fire and the sizeable but empty bookcase along the far wall. It wasn’t much, nothing like his master suite in the manor, but it looked comfortable enough.
“The bedroom is through there,” she said. “And you have your own bathroom behind that landscape of Loch Lomond.”
His gaze followed her hand and he nodded. “Excellent,” he managed, after a moment.
“I’ll leave you to get settled,” she said. “We’re having an informal gathering in the staff room in about an hour, to introduce new staff. You know your way there, or shall I fetch you in an hour’s time?”
“I can find my way,” Draco said. “Thank you, Headmistress.”
“The pleasure is mine, Professor Malfoy.” The witch turned to go, but then paused and turned back. “I am quite pleased that you are here. I know the rest of the staff will feel the same.”
We’ll see, Draco thought, but simply nodded in return.
McGonagall left, and he was alone. Terribly, annoyingly, embarrassingly alone.
Draco let out a small huff and began to unpack his trunk with a few waves of his wand. He tried very hard, as he had his clothes hang themselves in the closet and his books arrange themselves alphabetically on the shelves, not to think about how he had come to find himself in this situation, a situation where he could no longer bear to be in his own home, a situation where the prospect of teaching unruly adolescents the complex art of potion-making was preferable to a life of leisure spent with his wife and newborn son.
Not my son, he reminded himself bitterly. And Astoria’s not my wife anymore either.
That choice had been painful, but simple. One moment he was clutching his wife’s clammy hand, wiping at her pale brow, telling her “One more push, love, just one more.” And the next, there he was, the baby, the son he had been waiting for, ruddy, and pruney, and wailing. Only… something wasn’t quite right. Because the boy was dark, in hair and in skin, a virtual impossibility considering the paleness and blondeness of both of his parents.
There had been a moment of silence as Draco took in the sight, as the baby was cleaned and prepared to hand over to his new parents. And then Astoria had said, her voice hoarse, “I had been really hoping… I had truly been hoping he was yours.”
But the baby was not his. It was his best friend Blaise Zabini’s. And that was that. He was not going to raise another man’s child, not in those circumstances. The humiliation would have been simply too much to bear, far worse than being the first Malfoy in three centuries to divorce his spouse.
So the matter had been handled quietly, and Astoria and her new son had moved speedily to the Zabini estate. In the following months Draco had wandered his empty manor aimlessly, like a ghost, wondering when the humiliation and heartbreak would fade.
It didn’t. A few months in, Draco knew something had to be done. Malfoys did not dwell on unpleasant things. Malfoys did not wallow in self-pity. And so Draco went looking for something to distract, to get him out of his house and his memories and the void his wife had left in her wake.
And so he found Hogwarts. Again. After seven years. It would be a fresh start, he decided. A chance to begin again, and to do something worthwhile in the process. At least, that was what he hoped.
He glanced at the grandfather clock against the wall of his sitting room and realized he’d whiled away the whole hour ruminating on his misfortune. It was time to join the rest of the staff, and, while he wasn’t in the most social of moods, he found himself welcoming the diversion.
The makeup of the Hogwarts staff was much as it has been in Draco’s time as a student. Flitwick still taught Charms, Sinistra taught Astronomy, and Binns was apparently still boring his students out of their skulls in History of Magic. Babbling and Vector were still thick as thieves, teaching Ancient Runes and Arithmancy respectively, and Trelawney and the centaur Firenze were splitting the Divination classes. Sprout, Pomfrey, Filch, Hooch, and Pince were all present as well.
There were a few new faces, though, Draco was happy to note as he stood around, pumpkin juice in hand, making polite conversation with his new colleagues. The Care of Magical Creatures professor was a slim, balding, surprisingly well-kempt wizard named Gibbs, and Transfiguration was now being taught by the dark and lovely Francesca Bianchi, who also happened to be the new head of Slytherin house now that Slughorn was retired.
Professor Bianchi had been a few years above him at Hogwarts, and they hadn’t crossed paths much during those years. But he was quite enjoying his conversation with her now. The brunette was just the sort of witch Draco would have gone for, normally. Stunning in both looks and intelligence, she was poised and well-spoken, and had an admirable sense of Slytherin pride. And she was a pureblood to boot, meaning his parents would certainly have approved.
But he realized, as he took in her keen dark eyes, her lush mouth, and her delicate curves, that her presence made him feel nothing beyond a moderate professional curiosity. Though she was a near-perfect specimen in every respect, she did absolutely nothing for him.
He silently cursed Astoria - and the damage she had obviously done to his ability to be attracted to anyone - as Bianchi continued to expound on the ways she was approaching heading Slytherin house in a different fashion than her predecessors.
“It frustrates me to no end that Slytherin has been pegged as the house of troublemakers,” she was saying. “We are supposed to be the house of dignity and good breeding, getting what’s ours through cunning, not cruelty. I will be making it clear to my students this year that bullying and insubordination will not be tolerated. Leave that to the Gryffindors, I say.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Draco said. “Whatever I can do to help, consider it done.”
“I appreciate that,” she replied with a warm - one might even say flirtatious - smile (Draco waited, but, again, felt absolutely nothing in reaction, not even a twitch below the belt. Damn Astoria). “We’ll have our house winning the Cup this year, just you wait and see.”
Draco was going to reply (with something witty and charming, of course), when there was a commotion by the door. Someone had just come through, apologizing profusely for his lateness, and those around the new arrival were gregariously welcoming him, as if they had been waiting for him all along.
“I got caught up on a floo call.” The voice was deeper than Draco remembered, but still shockingly familiar. He felt a frisson of confusion travel up his spine, followed by a wave of dismay that crested under his breastbone and crashed into his stomach, making him suddenly ill.
It was just like the old days, when they were in school. Now that Potter was in the room, all attention was on him. He made his way through the crowd of faculty, shaking hands and kissing cheeks, a huge grin plastered on his face and warm laughter in his voice.
Harry fucking Potter.
Was he on staff here? How did Draco not know this before? He looked around the room, doing the maths in his head, and realized there had been no Defense Against the Dark Arts professor accounted for yet. Why hadn’t he realized that?
Harry goddamn fucking Potter.
Draco had believed that behind the thick walls of Hogwarts castle he could hide from his past, finally find a safe place to lick his wounds and start anew. This only confirmed how naïve he had been. Apparently, there was no escaping the past.
There was no escape from being spotted either, as Potter made his way through the room. His green eyes fell on Draco, a look of surprise passing across his face. He made his way over.
“Harry,” Bianchi said affectionately, offering her cheek.
Potter obliged. “Francesca. You’re looking gorgeous as ever. How was your summer?”
“It was lovely,” she beamed at him, bright as a lumos charm. (Hadn’t she just been complaining about Gryffindors? How had Potter, the worst of the lot, managed to win her over so profoundly?) “I spent it in Tuscany with my family, as usual.”
“Of course,” Potter replied smoothly. “How’s the vineyard?”
“Doing very well. Papa says it’s going to be a very good year for Chianti.”
“Glad to hear it. I’ll have to reserve a case.”
As they chatted Draco took in Potter’s appearance with what was probably blatant disbelief. The gangly teenager in baggy clothes and ridiculous round glasses was no more. In his place stood a lean but broad-shouldered man in a simple but stylish Muggle ensemble that fit him to perfection. He wore slender, ovular spectacles with thin frames, making him look simultaneously professorial and sophisticated. Behind the unobtrusive eyewear his bright green eyes could be seen easily (had they always been that green?), glinting with confidence. Even his dark hair, which Draco remembered being unruly in the Gryffindor’s youth, was sleek and well-styled, suiting the shape of his face and his strong jaw perfectly.
What is happening? Draco wondered in horror. What parallel dimension have I accidentally wandered into?
“And, of course, you know Draco Malfoy,” Bianchi was saying, getting Draco’s attention once again. “He’s our new Potions Master.”
“Right, of course,” said Potter, turning to Draco and giving him a smile. “Good to see you again, Malfoy.” He held out a hand.
Draco took it, half in shock. “Thank you,” he said. “It’s good to be back here.” His eyes never left Potter’s face, searching that bright, white smile for some hidden animosity or ill will. But he found nothing of the sort.
And then Potter asked after his parents, as if he cared if they were living or dead, and when Draco told him that they had moved to France, Potter asked where in France, like he was genuinely interested.
“The Malfoys have had a hidden estate in the Loire Valley for centuries,” he said.
“Right. That’s central France, isn’t it?”
“I was talking to someone recently who was telling me about how beautiful central France is,” Potter said, looking between Draco and Bianchi. “Most people go on and on about Paris, and Provence, and Nice, but in truth the central regions are equally beautiful. There are all these extinct volcanoes and everything is very green there, so I hear. And apparently they make very good cheese.”
“And excellent wine,” Bianchi chimed in.
“Well, you would know all about that,” Potter said, and the two professors beamed at each other some more.
This led to Potter explaining to Draco about Professor Bianchi’s family, her father and one of her aunts who were both expert winemakers in the Chianti region of Italy. “They use a mix of magical and Muggle methods, as I understand it.” He turned to Bianchi, who nodded in confirmation. He then went on to say that Draco would be well-served to reserve a case of what was currently being bottled, and nudging at Bianchi about whether she had a bottle of the 2001 vintage for Draco to try, as that had been particularly good, and Bianchi replied that she didn’t, but she could get her hands on a bottle of the 2003, which was also excellent, and would Draco like to try it?
He, of course, felt obligated to say “Yes, that would be lovely,” although not merely to be polite, but because Potter had somehow made him feel actually included in their conversation, though in truth Draco had contributed very little.
It was all so very bizarre. Somewhere along the way between killing the Dark Lord and becoming a Hogwarts professor, Potter had not only learned how to dress and groom himself, but he had learned how to be charming. It was completely throwing off Draco’s equilibrium.
And, frankly, it left a rather bitter taste in Draco’s mouth. There really was no justice in the world, it seemed. Not only did Potter get to be famous and beloved in his youth for surviving something as an infant that he’d actually had no real control over, but now he got to be confident and attractive and still beloved in his adulthood for no good reason (other than saving the world, but really, that was years ago). Potter, standing there, looking like he had all aspects of his life well in hand, only served to remind Draco of how thoroughly his own life had fallen to bits.
Thankfully he was soon rescued by Professor Babbling, who he’d always liked. Though she was a severe looking witch, with graying dark hair and a pointed nose, she was actually quite kind, and immediately asked how Draco was feeling about the Potions curriculum and the lesson planning, and letting him know that if he needed any guidance, she would be happy to provide it.
“It’s no comment on your skills, Draco, you understand,” she said. “But the first year of teaching can be overwhelming. Just know that I’m in your corner, as is the rest of the staff. We support and help each other here.”
On the way back to his quarters after the gathering, Draco tried to sort through his feelings. On the one hand, the entire endeavor had gone quite well. It seemed that McGonagall had not misrepresented things, and the staff was glad to have him join their ranks. In this respect he was feeling more optimistic than ever about his choice to return to Hogwarts, and actually looking forward to beginning the school year and reimmersing himself in his most beloved subject.
But, on the other hand, there was Potter.
It would have been easier if Potter had been cold and distant, if he had simply avoided Draco and made it clear that they need not interact, ever, if they could help it. Draco would have been perfectly content with that.
But no, Potter had to be nice to him, and act like he wanted to bridge the chasm that had grown wider by the year since that initial rejection on the Hogwarts Express. He knew this couldn’t really be true. It had to be an act, for the benefit of their colleagues (especially Bianchi, who Potter clearly wanted to bed, if he wasn’t bedding her already). But even if it was just an act, Draco was now forced to play along, and that irked him. If Potter chose to be kind, what choice did he have but to be at least somewhat friendly in return?