August 3rd, 1998
It starts with a letter.
Harry is rather sick of letters, if he’s being completely honest. Though the war is over, the prophecy fulfilled, he’s been more popular than ever. And after two miserable weeks in Auror training this spring, he really just wants to rest.
Not rest, maybe. He’s staying at Grimmauld Place, and though the Order did its best with the house, it really is still quite a sight for sore eyes. If there’s one thing he learned before ever even going to Hogwarts, it’s how to clean a house, and clean it well.
But that has nothing to do with the letters, not really.
Except that he has to put all the letters somewhere.
He gets some from the Ministry—job offers, probably, but he didn’t die and come back to life to become a fucking politician, did he? Or maybe they want him to come back to Auror training, like Ron does.
The other letters are from, well, everybody else, really. Mrs Weasley has sent a few. Hermione, of course. Ron. Luna and Ginny and Neville and—
Everyone, really. People he knows, people he doesn’t, people he wishes he didn’t. He stashes all of them away in one of the rooms upstairs, but doesn’t open most—any—of them. He knows what they say—we’re worried about you. Will you come for lunch or something, mate? Where have you been? We want to hear how you feel about the war!—and he would really just rather let them sit there, at least until the house is clean.
It’s not just about the dust, though. There are memories here, the past breathed into the walls and the floors and in those rooms Harry doesn’t know just yet how he feels about entering. Walburga Black’s portrait, and Regulus’s room, and the Black family tree, Sirius’s face permanently blasted off of it.
He wonders, sometimes, if he should even be here at all.
But the house is, well, his. With no Blacks left to command it, and as Sirius’s godson, he has control over the wards. Nobody can get in if he doesn’t want them in, and, right now, all he really wants is some peace, quiet, and a lot fewer letters in that upstairs room.
It turns out, though, that it starts with a letter.
He takes it from the owl that offers it to him, but when he goes to throw it dismissively on the table, the owl chirps in protest.
He looks over at it, exasperated. “What do you want me to do? I have treats. Is that what you want?”
If he didn’t know any better, he would think the owl is glaring at him.
“Is someone making you stay here?” He shakes his head. That would be typical of Hermione, really, but he doesn’t know why she would. “You want me to read it that badly?”
When he reaches for the letter again, the owl lets out a pleased trill.
Rolling his eyes, he picks the stupid thing up, turns it over, and—
“Hogwarts, huh?” He looks up at the owl thoughtfully. He can think of very few people at Hogwarts who would want to get in touch with him now. They’re still rebuilding, after the fierce battle, but McGonagall had been the first to assure him that they didn’t need help from him to do that, and he really should rest.
Yes, well. He’s trying to rest, isn’t he?
With another shake of his head, he opens the letter, feeling sort of like he is eleven years old again and finally opening the letter that changed his life.
While the circumstances I write to you in are most unfortunate, I hope this letter reaches you in good health. As you may know, we have been working most diligently to repair what was lost in May. That includes a stable and adept teaching staff.
I understand that this may not be in any way conventional, but I hoped you may be interested in meeting with me to discuss the opportunities available to you. You, along with two of your classmates, were indicated by our current staff to be good candidates for the open or opening positions in the teaching staff at Hogwarts. In your case, the position as the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, under supervision by a previous professor of the subject.
Should you wish to pursue this line of conversation further, please do send a message immediately. While I understand that you have a great many responsibilities, I sincerely hope that this is within your grasps.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Harry reads the letter. And then he reads it again.
And then he thinks about casting an Incendio on it.
And then he reads it again.
He doesn’t need a job, he knows. He has a fortune waiting for him in the Potter vault and the Black vault. In those few months following the end of the war, he was approached by many, many people wishing to write his biography, and, he knows, if he ever needs the money, that would be a way to get it.
There are enough books about him already, though, he remembers thinking bitterly.
Hogwarts, much like Grimmauld Place, is strife with memories. Good and bad. Mostly bad, lately, but that’s just because he’s becoming a recluse—at least, almost assuredly according to Hermione. It’s not like he doesn’t want to see McGonagall, because he does. In fact, he might even want to see some of the other professors he would surely run into there, but, then, he isn’t so sure.
He’s sick of being Harry Potter, saviour of the wizarding world. It’s why he’s here, cleaning, every fucking day of the week. At least here, the only people who talk to him are portraits of Black family members who can sense his “filthy blood” or whatever. Sometimes, it’s even amusing.
But it’s not like tea with a real person, talking about anything that actually matters.
He reads the letter again.
They must be rather desperate, he thinks, to be asking students who haven’t even graduated, technically, to teach at Hogwarts. Apparently, they’re planning to let students retake the year they missed—something Hermione jumped at the chance to do, of course, which is weird, because if he responds to this letter and says yes, sure, why not, he would be teaching Hermione, and she’s older than him.
But, no, not really. “Under supervision,” the letter says. Meaning, they won’t just throw him into it completely unprepared.
And then he realizes—
He’s actually considering this.
He shoots the owl a dirty look, as if it is to blame. Maybe he imagines it, but he thinks it’s making an attempt at an innocent face when it slowly blinks its eyes.
“Wait here,” he mutters, though he knows the owl won’t be going anywhere until it receives a response.
He heads into the next room to find some parchment, a quill, and ink, then takes an owl treat from the bag he leaves there to tempt the peskier owls (though less pesky than this one, he imagines) away from him.
Offering the treat to the owl (who stubbornly remains at the table), he retakes his seat and begins to write.
I think you’re mad.
I don’t know why you’re asking me this when you know I’m going to say no.
I already told you, I’m going to be an Auror.
Thank you for considering me. I would be happy to meet with you. When should I come?
-Harry J. Potter
August 4th, 1998
It is surely a testament to his growing insanity, he thinks. Surely, beyond a doubt, without any consideration otherwise.
McGonagall must know, because she says she wants to meet immediately. The next morning. Harry almost told her no, I have plans, but his plans have been cleaning for a full month now, and he should probably start to admit, at least to himself, that he’s getting bored of it.
So, yes. He Apparates to Hogsmeade the next morning, and it’s terrible.
Every single person he sees wants to talk to him. He smiles, says he has somewhere to be, but it doesn’t matter. They want to know what he’s been doing. They want to know what great thing he’ll accomplish next. They want to crowd him until he gives in, because personal space apparently doesn’t matter when one has a pressing question for Harry Potter.
He misses Grimmauld Place already.
But, eventually, he pushes through, grateful that there are only a few people here. If it were the middle of the day, he knows it would be worse.
And he thinks he gets it, suddenly.
McGonagall must know.
Maybe it’s one of those perks of being Headmaster, he thinks idly. Knowing things. Dumbledore always knew things too.
And then he stops thinking, because he doesn’t want to think about Dumbledore.
Hogwarts is different in the summer. It’s emptier, of course, but not just in terms of how many people are around. It’s almost ghostly, and that has nothing to do with the ghosts that drift through the halls.
It doesn’t look any different, but Harry can see things in places he couldn’t before. Where people fought, where people died.
It’s not there anymore, but he sees it anyway.
Feeling dizzy, he turns away and keeps his gaze forward as he strides towards the gargoyle statue he knows he will find McGonagall by.
True to her word, she is standing there waiting for him.
“Good morning, Potter,” she says briskly, and Harry feels his shoulders relax, just a bit.
Of course he’s not Harry Potter, saviour of the wizarding world to McGonagall. She watched him grow from eleven years old, saw him as the child of two of her favourite students, the godson of another. Whatever he lost in the war, McGonagall lost it all too, and she isn’t going to ask him how he feels about it.
He smiles at her. “Morning, Professor. It looks nice.” He gestures behind him, to the rebuilt structures towards the front of the castle.
She offers him the closest thing to a smile he thinks she ever will, then turns and says to the gargoyle, “Aurum Leonis.”
Such a strange contrast to Dumbledore’s passwords, Harry can’t help thinking as he follows McGonagall up the spiral staircase. Perhaps she, too, doesn’t like to think about him, though.
The office itself looks different. Many of the trinkets Dumbledore kept about are gone, and the decorations are more like Harry remembers McGonagall’s office being, when he was a student. There is another portrait on the wall that wasn’t there before, and Harry starts, blinking.
Beside Dumbledore’s wide smile, Snape’s sneer is almost comical. Neither of the painted men speak, but Harry watches them anyway, enthralled by their presence.
“Sit down,” McGonagall tells him. “Tea?”
Finally, he tears his gaze away from his old professors and takes his seat across from the headmistress, nodding in agreement to the offer.
Once they’re finally settled, tea sat between them, McGonagall says, very quietly, “I understand that your ambition was to become an Auror.”
Harry winces, looking down into his cup with a frown. “Er, yeah, it was.”
“Perhaps it is unfair to ask.” She sounds hesitant, somehow. “It is entirely up to you, of course. The other professors here agreed that—”
“It was not an agreement, Minerva,” snaps Snape from his portrait.
McGonagall’s gaze turns weary. “It is not your choice to make, Severus.”
Harry gets the feeling that this is not the first time they’ve had this particular exchange.
“You want me to teach?” he asks, to be sure. “At Hogwarts?”
She nods. “Not many are keen on a job here,” she admits. “The circumstances are...not ideal. And given the rumours about our cursed Defence position, it’s far from a requited one. However, your marks in the subject were, well—outstanding, frankly, given the trials you endured in your time here. Not to mention, your work with the DA was very fine indeed, if their performance in the battle is anything to go by. If you still wish to pursue a career as an Auror, I won’t stop you. But I hope you know that, should you ever want it, Hogwarts will always have a place for you.”
It warms his chest, but there is a chill that follows so immediately, the effect is all but lost.
“I—I don’t know if I would really be…” He trails off, eyes fixed on his drink.
McGonagall is quiet for a moment. Then, she says, “If I didn’t believe you suitable for the position, Mr Potter, then I wouldn’t have asked.”
But they all thought he was suitable for Auror training too, didn’t they?
“And it may be beneficial,” she adds. “Should you need a person to turn to, Hogwarts will always have one.”
Harry sips his tea because it seems like the best way to avoid responding.
And then he realizes that he can’t avoid it, because McGonagall will just keep waiting until his teacup is empty.
“I don’t need the money,” he finally points out.
“And I’m not coming back for seventh year.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to.”
“That is the very last reason I would consider you for this position.”
In a way, it is exactly the thing he needs to hear. But, then, he already knew, didn’t he, that the professors at Hogwarts don’t see him as Harry Potter, but just—Potter, or Harry, the little eleven-year-old kid who almost died in their school every year because he was stupid and reckless in a way even his father wasn’t.
And the thought sends the chill away again.
“You said in your letter that there were others,” he says. “And we would be—under supervision? You know, Muggles usually go to school for like four years or something before they can do things like this.”
McGonagall’s lips twitch up a bit. “Yes, well, we’re not Muggles, are we? As it is, you would be in an apprenticeship of sorts with a past professor of the subject. There are two other students, from your year, in fact, that were signalled out to be good choices and have responded affirmatively to the request.”
“They already have the job?”
Harry frowns. “But you only sent those letters yesterday.”
McGonagall shakes her head. “Had you opened your mail,” she says, “you would have seen that I sent the first letter many weeks ago.”
Harry opens his mouth, then closes it again, only able to blink stupidly at the woman. Weeks? Well, sure, he has a lot of letters in that upstairs room, but he doesn’t think he would just throw something from Hogwarts away, would he?
Except that he tried to, with this one.
He swallows. “Er, sorry, Professor. I didn’t know. Why did you keep sending them, if you knew I wasn’t responding?”
There’s a twinkle in her eyes, one that really makes her look like she belongs in this room. “I seem to remember a first year student, some years ago, who didn’t open his letter until it was delivered to him by someone who would ensure he received it. You aren’t living with your relatives now, though, are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Well, Miss Granger informed me that you might need something of a push.”
Harry’s head is spinning, just a bit. “You talked to Hermione about me?”
“She didn’t have much to say,” McGonagall says. “She said that you seemed to be having a difficult time responding to her letters as well.”
“I’m not having a difficult time,” Harry protests. “I—I’ve been cleaning.”
She arches an eyebrow at him, and he flushes.
“I’ve just been busy,” he amends. “Auror training didn’t work out, so I…”
As he quiets, McGonagall watches him in interest. “Auror training? I wasn’t aware that you had started it.”
Harry sighs, frustrated with himself for bringing it up in the first place. It’s embarrassing, and stupid, and Ron really wishes he would come back but he thinks that’s a bad idea in every capacity, and—
“They gave us an immediate admission,” Harry admits. “If we wanted it. Me and Ron and Hermione, I mean. Ron’s still there, but, well…” He shrugs. “I guess I’ve just had my share of Dark Lord hunting in my life.”
“So, you don’t want to become an Auror?”
“I don’t know.” It feels like he’s a fifth year all over again, suddenly. “I really just said the first thing that came to mind, honestly, Professor. I mean, Voldemort hunted me my whole life. Maybe I’d have to deal with that until I was fifty. I didn’t know.”
“You wanted to be an Auror because you thought you would spend your entire life trying to kill Voldemort?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He glares down at his empty cup. “But now I’m cleaning, see? That’s important too.”
“That’s pathetic, Potter.” It’s Snape’s portrait again, haughty and irritating as ever. “Minerva is offering you a fine chance, and you would refuse it just to sit around and mope?”
“I’m not moping!”
“Now, now,” says Dumbledore gently. “Harry is still young, Severus! Don’t you remember being young?”
Harry doesn’t think he imagines the edge to those words.
Snape huffs, turning away without a word.
“Are they always like this?” Harry asks McGonagall, frustrations cast aside in favour of his curiosity.
McGonagall has that tired look on her face again. “Unfortunately,” she says. “But Professor Snape is right, Harry. You need to do something. Teaching is incredibly fulfilling, you know.”
Harry doesn’t miss the use of his first name, the tone of her voice. She wants him to say yes, but there’s a room full of letters in his house and a thousand speculative news articles about what their saviour is up to now, and—
“You really think it’s a good fit for me?”
He isn’t really one to think about things, is he? A year ago, he probably would’ve jumped right into something like this. He kind of did, didn’t he, when they formed the DA? Not that he had thought himself the best for that position, either, but he had done it, consequences be damned.
But he pauses to think about it now. What it would mean to come back here. Hogwarts is the only place he ever really called home.
And he finds he’s really not thinking about it at all.
Almost absently, he nods. “I can try, Professor.”
“I expect you to do more than try, Potter.” But she is smiling, just a bit. “Now, there is some paperwork to be done to formalize it all, but why don’t we run through what your year would look like?”
He waits, wishing he had not drunk his tea so fast.
“You and your two classmates will be teaching alongside another professor, for the majority of the year. Of course, you may—and I encourage you to—approach other professors about their methods, as you are still only learning. Though your mentor professor will largely be dictating what is on the syllabus, with each term you will be given more and more authority within the classroom. As such, your responsibilities will grow. I trust you can handle that?”
“Er, yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Then, I will expect you here at least one week before September.”
Harry blinks. “That’s it?”
“Aside from the forms.” McGonagall lifts her hands and waves her wand wordlessly, bringing a long scroll of parchment. She sets it eloquently on the desk between them, then flattens it out and turns it towards Harry.
“Just your signature,” she says briskly.
There are words inked out on the long piece of paper, but Harry figures that if they’re really that important, McGonagall will probably tell him what they are. He signs on the line, and the parchment gives a brief glow, gold as the sun.
“Professor,” he says slowly, setting the quill down, “who would be helping me, exactly? Most of the Defence teachers I had…”
McGonagall rolls the parchment up, not meeting his eyes. “I’m aware that it is far from a conventional situation, nor is it necessarily a pleasant one, I’m sure.”
“Minerva believes I should be your personal tutor.” Snape has returned to sneer down at him, in a clear and characteristic flare of dramatics. “Given that your other competent teachers are, of course, dead.”
Harry wonders if it would be worth pointing out that he, too, is technically dead, then decides he’d better not.
“Oh, like how Professor Binns teaches?” Harry asks, glancing at McGonagall.
“I am not a ghost, Potter!”
McGonagall is hiding a smile. “Yes, somewhat. Severus can’t leave Hogwarts, and I do believe this would be a far better use of his time than harassing the rest of the portraits and myself.”
“He doesn’t sound very happy about it,” Harry points out.
“Yes, well, he will adjust.” McGonagall presses her lips together. “If you have any inquiries, Mr Potter, I am always reachable by owl, or I will be here, preparing for the school year. Otherwise, I expect to see you here a week before the term begins. Understood?”
“Then, you may go.”
He wastes no time in doing so, but once he is out of the office, he takes the time to really look around him. This time, he takes his time as he walks through the castle, trying to see in it all the things that made it home, before it was ever a battleground.
Suddenly, cleaning the house really doesn’t seem so important at all.
August 7th, 1998
“Harry! You should have told us!”
Hermione leans forward, elbows braced against the table, a wide smile on her face. It’s the first time she and Ron have been in Grimmauld Place since Harry started “hiding” here (as Hermione put it when she first stepped through the door), and Harry can’t help thinking that they seem out of place here, after all the long weeks of solitude he has put himself through.
“McGonagall said she talked to you,” Harry says carefully.
Ron nods. “She came by the Burrow. Wanted to talk to Mum about something, I think. I guess it’s been kinda hard to organize everything, after how the last school year went.” He shrugs. “She said we could come back, if we wanted, but there’s no point, really, is there?”
Hermione shoots him a dark look. “There is so. You’re missing out on a lot of knowledge by not going back! And we spent six years, really, preparing for our N.E.W.T.s, so why shouldn’t we go back and take them?”
“Because Kingsley said we didn’t have to?” Ron suggests wryly.
Hermione huffs, and, sensing a lecture, Harry puts in, “It doesn’t matter, really, does it? Anyway, McGonagall said that there are three of us. She doesn’t seem that concerned about N.E.W.T.s.”
It must be the wrong tactic, because Hermione glares at him.
“They’re still important,” she stresses. “I mean, I’m sure you would have gotten an Outstanding in Defence anyway, Harry, but there’s a reason we’re supposed to take them, isn’t there? Who else is teaching?”
Harry shrugs. “She didn’t tell me. Someone to replace her, probably, since she’s Headmistress now.”
“Neville,” Ron supplies. “Ginny said so.”
Hermione blinks. “Not Transfiguration, surely?”
“Herbology, I think. Dunno who would be taking McGonagall’s place.”
“Well, either way,” Hermione says, suddenly bright again, “it’s wonderful of her to give you the opportunity. When we saw her, she said she’d been trying to get a hold of you since the beginning of July!”
Harry looks away from her, shame tugging at his stomach. “Er, yeah, she said something like that to me too. I’ve just been getting a lot of mail, you know…”
Ron grimaces. “I’ve had some reporters after me, too, mate. Always want to know what you’re up to.”
“What have you been up to?” Hermione asks. “You ignored our letters, too. We’ve been worried about you, but, well, I know you said….”
When he asked them to come here, he hoped they could avoid this specific conversation. And so far, everything was going really well. If it were just Ron here, Harry gets the feeling that it wouldn’t have come up at all.
But Hermione is here too, and she doesn’t really care if Harry doesn’t want to have this conversation.
Still, he waves a dismissive hand. “Oh, you know…”
“Have you been to visit Teddy?” Hermione presses. “Andromeda asked if you wanted to. He is your godson, after all.”
Harry feels sick, suddenly. “No, I haven’t.”
“You should,” she says. “He’s so cute! She says he’s already showing signs of being a Metamorphmagus, like Tonks. Isn’t it amazing? He can’t control it yet, of course, but Andromeda says Tonks was like that too.”
“You’ve seen him?”
Hermione frowns. “Yeah, of course. Both of us have, a few times. Sometimes Ron’s mum looks after him, if Andromeda has somewhere to be.”
“Oh.” Perhaps, somewhere in that room, there are letters from Andromeda, too. “I guess I just hadn’t really thought about it. I’ll—er, I’ll go see them, before school starts.”
“You should come by the Burrow, too,” Ron says. “Mum’s all worried about you, you know. It’s like she thinks you haven’t had a real meal since the last time she saw you.”
Harry laughs weakly. “Well, not one as good as anything she would make, at least.”
But she might be right, really. Harry tries to remember the last time he ate something much more substantial than toast, but nothing comes to mind.
“Come by this weekend for dinner,” Ron suggests. “Sunday? I can tell Mum you’ll be there. And ‘Mione will be too, of course. Maybe we could ask Andromeda, and she could bring Teddy.”
Harry nods, not trusting his voice. It’s a good thing, he reminds himself. He wants to see his godson. He wants to see Mrs Weasley. He wants to see Ginny.
So why is there this sense of dread, like he doesn’t want any of that at all?
“We should probably be going, then,” Hermione says. “Ron made plans for us tonight.”
From the way she says it, Harry gets the idea that she’s not very pleased with these particular plans. His lips twitch up a bit.
“It’s not that bad,” Ron insists. “It’s supposed to help build teamwork. I thought you were all for that.”
It’s one of those Aurors-in-training things, then, Harry surmises. Where they go out and get drunk in the spirit of teamwork, or something.
“Better you than me,” Harry tells Hermione, trying for sympathetic.
She purses her lips. “Yes, well, you may be the next one invited, so I wouldn’t speak so soon.”
“You’re the girlfriend,” Harry points out. “Not me.”
He stands with them as they head for the fireplace, glad that the tension that was swirling through the kitchen only minutes ago seems to have been at least mostly swept away.
“Sunday, right?” Ron asks, grabbing some of the Floo powder and turning to look at Harry over his shoulder.
“Yeah, of course.”
Satisfied, Ron nods and steps into the fireplace, throwing the powder down and calling, “The Burrow!”
As he disappears in a whirl of green, Hermione turns her back on the fireplace and meets Harry’s gaze with narrowed eyes.
“If something is wrong,” she says, “you can tell us. You know?”
Weariness tugs at his entire body. “Nothing is wrong, Hermione.”
“And you’ll really be there on Sunday?”
Harry frowns. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Her uncertainty doesn’t disappear, but she nods and turns around to follow Ron, saying, “See you on Sunday,” just before she goes.
Harry watches, chest tight and uncomfortable. What is she seeing in him, exactly? Sure, he’s not feeling overly enthused about dinner at the Weasleys’, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to go...does it?
He shakes his head, frustration bubbling within him. He’ll be there, no matter what, so he really should just stop thinking so much.
For now, the best thing he can really do is keep cleaning. There’s a room upstairs filled with letters that desperately need to go.
August 9th, 1998
Harry’s days usually start out the same:
He wakes somewhere between two and five in the morning, the remnants of some horrific dream chasing the edges of his memory, and then he’ll glare at the ceiling until he comes to terms with the fact that he won’t be falling asleep again anytime soon, and he probably wouldn’t really want to, anyway, if that’s what he’s going to be dealing with. And then he’ll get out of bed, go to the kitchen, make some tea, and do his best to forget about the nightmare.
Since he went to Hogwarts last week, they’ve gotten worse, he has to admit. They’re not as bad as the dreams he had, sometimes, when Voldemort was still around and fucking with his head, but they have their own sort of awfulness to them. There are people he knows are already dead. There are people he dreams about being dead, even though he knows they aren’t. Sometimes, he kills them himself, but when he looks down, the hand wielding the wand is not his own, but Voldemort’s.
But thinking about them doesn’t usually get him anywhere. So, he drinks his tea, and he thinks about what else he can clean in this house, and he sets to work.
The upstairs room with the letters has been mostly untouched since he started piling them in here. He sifts through them absently, guilt tugging deep in his gut, and sorts them into two piles.
Eventually, he comes to the end, and he turns to the pile he has put a little under half the letters onto. Pointing his hand at it, he mutters, “Incendio.”
This is something he has done to pass the time, aside from cleaning. While nonverbal spells took some time to master, wandless magic has come a lot more easily. Perhaps, he thinks, he would just rather perform it without a wand, because sometimes his wand feels too heavy in his hand these days, like it has served its purpose as he has and now it doesn’t see much of a point in anything.
He watches idly until the fire dies out, then looks at the other pile. Knowing that it will be a strenuous task, he picks them up and takes them downstairs, depositing them on the kitchen table before going to make himself more tea.
Sometimes, he finds himself wishing he had taken Occlumency more seriously in fifth year. Clearing his mind would be a great skill to have, these days, when there is nothing around anymore to keep his mind away from the general unpleasantness of the war and everything else. It’s probably not that simple, but he can’t help thinking about it anyway. Maybe, he thinks wryly, Snape will teach him when he returns to Hogwarts at the end of the month.
He brings his tea out to the table and sits down with it, then picks up the first letter from the pile. It’s from Ginny.
He continues on like this for many hours. Every time he runs out of tea, he gets up to make more, until it is a mechanical sort of process. He reads letters from Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Neville, Mrs Weasley, McGonagall, Hagrid, Mr Weasley, Andromeda, and even, oddly enough, Narcissa Malfoy.
That’s the last one he reads, and he has to read it a few times before it really sinks in.
Dear Mr Potter,
I first would like to thank you for your good word in mine and my son’s trials. I will be the first to say that I would not have expected such a gesture, but I have since heard that it is quite in-character for you, in fact. Under other circumstances, I would not have chosen to write to you, but over the past months, I have thought to reach out to my estranged sister and make an attempt at reconciliation. It has come to my attention that we are both, unfortunately, quite alone. As well, she is taking care of her only grandchild—your godson, I have been informed.
Understand, Mr Potter, that I would not be writing if my sister had not asked. As it is, though, she seems to value your opinion greatly in this matter, and she says that whether or not I may be a part of Teddy Lupin’s life is not a decision for her alone to make. What you did for Draco and I owes enough of a debt, and, thus, I would not expect you to grant me this simply because it might make me happy. However, you are quite young, and Andromeda would need help to raise another child.
I am terribly sorry if this seems uncouth in any way, but I would ask you to at least consider speaking with my sister on this matter. You have no obligation to me, nor my son. Should you allow me this, we would be greatly indebted to you.
Please, consider your options carefully.
Narcissa Black Malfoy
After the battle, the trials had been long and tedious, honestly. Lucius, for his part, had been sent to Azkaban, unable to buy his way out of imprisonment a second time. However, on Harry’s testimony, both Narcissa and Draco Malfoy were cleared of all charges, and were able to take charge of their assets in Lucius’s absence. Really, Harry wouldn’t consider any of that a reason to owe him anything; frankly, they both did their part to make sure he stayed alive to tell the tale, and that in itself owes enough of a debt on his part. He saved Malfoy from that fire, sure, but Malfoy had (maybe) lied for him first. And Narcissa really had lied for him.
Guilt stirs in his stomach, and he wonders just how long this letter has been sitting, untouched. That would be weeks—maybe even months—that Harry has apparently deprived Narcissa of time with her estranged family. …we are both, unfortunately, quite alone.
Harry thinks he gets that.
He sets the letter aside with a sigh, knowing there’s no response he could possibly draft up that would excuse his ignorance of her request. Another quick shuffle through the other letters shows that she sent no others.
Shaking his head, he stands to make more tea.
Being alone gives him a lot of room to think, though, often, thinking is the last thing he wants to do. And what’s there to think about, really? Which room he’ll be cleaning next, mostly.
It’s a strange sort of confinement he has put himself under. At first, he was here with Kreacher, but then he realized that Kreacher was tidying up after him, and that really just wouldn’t do. So, he sent the house elf back to Hogwarts, as he did after Sirius’s death.
Which is also a terrible thing to think about, so he pushes it away.
He makes his tea. Drinks it. Does the dishes.
It’s only noon.
Exhausted, as he usually is by this point in the day, he decides to retire to bed, to try to get at least another hour of restful sleep. Sleeping in the day, he has come to find, usually helps more than sleeping at night.
That was the issue with Auror training, of course. But he doesn’t really like to think about Auror training, either.
He does get some sleep, though it is far from restful, and then he’s dragging himself through the rest of his daily ritual. He washes the clean floors, and dirties some dishes just so he can wash them again, and he returns to his stack of letters on the table before burning those ones, too. Except for Narcissa’s, that is, which he folds up and sticks in his pocket. He’ll talk to Andromeda about it…eventually.
At some point, his drifting is interrupted by a head in his fireplace.
“Harry!” Ron bellows. “Are you coming?!”
Harry peeks around the corner of the wall at his friend, confused, and then closes his eyes and lets out a long exhale.
Right. He made a promise, and now Ron is here to make sure he stays true to it.
“I’m coming through!” Ron says, and, in only a few seconds, he does exactly that, standing before the fireplace and brushing soot off his robes. “Harry?”
Harry steps into sight. “Hey. Er, what time is it?”
Ron consults his watch, but Harry has a feeling he already knows what the time is. “Four. My mum is going mad. You’ll have to come and put her at ease, mate.”
“Right.” Harry’s feet carry him towards Ron, but he feels faint, almost like he is walking to his death. Except that he’s done that before, and it was somehow a lot less anxiety-inducing than this.
Which is stupid, obviously.
But even knowing that, his heart doesn’t stop racing.
If Ron notices, he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he pushes Harry forward and presses some Floo powder into his hand. All he has to do is call, “The Burrow!” and he’s stumbling out of the fireplace, Ron following close behind.
Immediately, people are descending on him.
“Harry!” This is Mrs Weasley, wrapping him in a tight embrace before he can even consider a verbal response. When she pulls away, her face is stern. “You’re too skinny, dear. You really ought to come by more often. We’ll keep you fed.”
He offers her a weak smile, but doesn’t get a chance to say anything before Ginny is standing in front of him, arms crossed over her chest, eyes blazing. “What have you been doing?” she demands. “Would it have killed you to send one letter?”
He winces, but Ron’s hand falls on his shoulder.
“Mind your own business, Ginny,” he says. “Harry’s been busy, that’s all.”
Briefly, Harry wonders if Hermione told Ron to say that, but quickly shoves the thought away as he looks around the room to see who else is here. There’s George, bereft of his other half, and, on his other side, is Andromeda, holding baby Teddy against her hip.
Shrugging Ron’s hand off of him, Harry approaches the woman and his godson, heart constricting in his chest.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, coming to a stop in front of her. “I didn’t…” He stops, hating the feeling that blossoms behind his eyes. “He’s so big now.”
Teddy turns to face him with bright blue eyes. His hair is a vivid yellow that sort of reminds Harry of the Hufflepuff colours. He gurgles something that might be a greeting, and lets Harry ruffle his hair in response.
“Don’t worry,” Andromeda is saying. “It’s been a busy few months for everyone.”
Harry nods, shoving the guilt aside. “I’ll come by more often,” he promises.
Andromeda smiles. “We would like that a lot, Harry.”
He turns around to see Hermione. She’s positively beaming.
“We haven’t told anybody your news,” she says. “We thought we would save that for you.”
All the eyes in the room turn on him again.
He looks around, blinking. “Er…”
“Are you returning to Auror training?” Ginny asks, tilting her head to the side. “They really want you back, don’t they?”
He shakes his head. “No, not that. I, er—Professor McGonagall offered me a job, actually.”
“Oh!” Ginny smiles. “Neville, too. He’ll be happy about that. You guys will see each other all the time!”
“What are you doing for her?” Mrs Weasley asks. “She mentioned that they’ve been quite overrun trying to get everything ready for the school year, poor dear…”
“Er, teaching.” He glances back at Andromeda, who smiles at him. “It’s a—practicum, sort of thing, I guess, at first.”
Ginny nods knowingly. “Neville is working with Professor Sprout. She wants to retire, I think, but wanted him to replace her.”
“Oh, my, you’re doing the same kind of thing?” Mrs Weasley smiles widely. “That’s wonderful, Harry! You can keep an eye on Ginny for us.”
George gives a little snort, surprising Harry. He had been so quiet, uncharacteristically so, that Harry had forgotten he was even there.
“I think Ginny can look out for herself, Mum. It’s ickle Ronniekins you ought to worry about.”
Ron glares at his brother. “I’m an Auror!”
“In training,” George corrects.
Mrs Weasley cuts in with a, “Why don’t we have dinner, then?” before Ron can say the furious words Harry sees bubbling just behind his lips.
They’re all in agreement about this, at least, and they all settle in at the table while Mrs Weasley puts dishes of food before them. Almost exactly as she takes her seat, Mr Weasley comes through the door to enthusiastic greetings, and then all of them tuck into their meal.
The conversation begins on Ron, who has much to say about his week in training, but then it drifts back over to Ginny, who is getting ready to return to Hogwarts, and then, of course, to Harry, who really ought to be doing the same thing.
“I don’t really have to buy any new textbooks, though,” he points out.
“Yeah, but there’s got to be other stuff, right?” Ginny presses. “I mean, remember all the things in Remus’s classroom? And it was always so different every year.”
Harry doesn’t really want to remember all the things in Remus’s classroom.
“Well, I would imagine it’ll be like Snape’s, then.” He looks down at his food, suddenly not interested in much other than moving it around on the plate with his fork. “We’re sharing, aren’t we?”
“Snape?” George laughs. “Oh, that’s tough, mate. They really couldn’t have gotten anyone else?”
“I mean, he’s just a painting,” Harry points out. “What can he do?”
“Still.” Ron grimaces. “Makes Auror training seem like a breeze, honestly.”
“I thought he was a good teacher,” Hermione says, sniffing. “And he won’t let Harry off easy, will he? I mean, maybe he wouldn’t be my first choice, but at least he knows what he’s doing.”
“Well, who would be your first choice?” Ginny asks, lips twitching up.
“McGonagall, of course. Wouldn’t she be yours?”
“Uh, no.” Ginny shudders. “I don’t envy the sorry bugger who would have to learn under her.”
“Ginny,” Mrs Weasley says warningly, but there is a distinct lack of bite in her words, as if she just really can’t be bothered to scold properly anymore.
And maybe, Harry thinks, she can’t be. Because what’s the point, if Fred isn’t the one she’s scolding?
“Sorry, Mum. Really, though. You think that’s the other position, Harry? Transfiguration?”
He nods. “She seemed pretty busy, when I talked to her. I don’t reckon she would want to teach all those classes on top of that.”
“She’s been teaching for a long time,” Mr Weasley puts in. “Might be nice to get a break from it, especially if Hogwarts is as hectic as the Ministry these days.”
“Is it bad?” Harry frowns. “All the trials are over, though, aren’t they?”
“Yes, well…” Mr Weasley sighs. “Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Kingsley can only do so much, but everyone wants things to change. Says it’s too dangerous to leave things like this, as if they’re expecting another war at any moment. I don’t blame them,” he adds. “It’s not easy to transition away from it so soon. But they want things changed that just can’t be changed. It would take years.”
Harry thinks of the letters he burned, from the Ministry and from complete strangers and from less-complete strangers. He hadn’t bothered seeing what was written in them, knowing he wouldn’t like it anyway, but now he can’t help but wonder.
“It will all settle eventually,” Mrs Weasley says soothingly. “But, Harry, you really should come over more before the school year starts. Percy is busy today, but I’m sure he would love to see you. And you’re looking a little peaky, dear, you know…”
The rest of their conversation over dinner is much lighter, mostly focussed on the upcoming school year, something Hermione is happy to talk about until all their plates are cleared and they begin to drift into the other room again.
Exhausted in a way he hasn’t ever really been before, Harry finds himself by Andromeda, holding Teddy in his arms. The letter from Narcissa burns in his pocket.
“Teddy loves you,” Andromeda murmurs as the baby reaches up to tangle his fingers in Harry’s hair, babbling happily. “He’ll get older, though, you know.”
Harry swallows. “I know.”
“It won’t be hard forever,” she says, offering him a sad smile. “I know you’ll be going to Hogwarts soon, but do write when you get the chance.”
He returns her smile as best he can. “I will. Er, your sister wrote to me.”
Andromeda tilts her head, thoughtful. “Did she? We’ve been writing to each other a bit. She says she wants to fix things, but I’m not so sure… Family is always a bit tricky.”
“She said that I should ask you to let her see Teddy.” Harry hesitates, looking his godson over. “She saved my life, you know.”
Andromeda nods slowly. “Yes, I know.”
“If she can help you, you should take the offer.” Harry smiles down at Teddy as the boy pulls on his hair, then gently detangles his hand and pushes it back again. “But you know her better than I do, so…”
“I don’t really know her at all,” Andromeda admits. “I was beyond surprised when she reached out to me, really, but…” She shrugs. “If she’s genuine, I wouldn’t mind having a sister again. We were close, once.” She says this as if it is some great secret. Maybe it is, Harry thinks. “But she and Bellatrix were always closer. I’ll never regret choosing Ted over them.”
“She seemed genuine,” Harry says honestly. “I don’t mind, though. You don’t need my permission for these sorts of things, you know.”
“I know.” Andromeda looks to Teddy, thoughtful. “But I think it’s important that you get a say. They wanted you to.”
Harry’s mouth dries up, and, suddenly, Teddy feels very heavy. Mutely, he offers him back to Andromeda, who takes him back but watches Harry with concern.
“Are you all right?” she asks. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”
“I’m fine,” he tells her quickly. “Er, it’s getting a bit late, is all.”
But he turns away from her before she can say anything more, finding himself in a sudden circle of Weasleys.
“You should have a drink, Harry.” This is Ginny, grinning at him. “You know, to celebrate! We’re happy for you.”
“Oh, no, that’s—”
But George takes his arm and leads him to sit, and then someone shoves a glass of something in his hand, and, really, he should have known better than to think he could just escape the Weasleys, especially not when he has deprived them of his company for so many months.
And, really, he shouldn’t want to leave. This is a good thing, he tells himself for what feels like the thousandth time. These people are his friends, his family, and he’s happy with them.
“What is this?” he asks suspiciously, turning to face George.
“Just Firewhiskey,” he says, hands out and open in front of him. “I swear.”
Harry glances at Ron, then Ginny, both of whom shrug, and lets out a sigh before taking a sip of the drink. To his surprise, it really does just taste like Firewhiskey, and, when nobody begins laughing madly at him, he can only assume his hair and face are still their regular colours.
“Where are your parents?” he asks after a moment, when it’s clear that the three siblings aren’t going to say anything.
“Mum’s in the kitchen,” says Ginny. “And Dad’s over there, with Andromeda, see?”
Indeed, Mr Weasley has taken his place beside the woman, but Harry doesn’t miss her occasional glances towards him, the slight frown that mars her face.
“We thought you might leave,” George says seriously. “But Mum would be devastated. She won’t let you go until she deems you fattened up enough.”
“I’m not that skinny,” Harry protests. “Besides, I have to go eventually, don’t I? I have, er, things to do.”
“Not until September,” Ginny says brightly. “At least stay a few more hours.”
Hermione looks at him from around Ron, smiling. “You owe us nearly three months of time, Harry. And we still expect you to write, you know.”
“Sorry, mate,” says Ron, shrugging. “We have missed you, though, you know.”
Harry blinks, then feels a small smile tugging at his lips. “I’ve missed you too.”
Ron and Hermione grin, then the four of them sit around him, talking animatedly between a few drinks and a lot of laughs.
For the first time in a very long time, Harry doesn’t find himself thinking much at all, and for that, he’s grateful.
August 17, 1998
Narcissa sends her thanks for speaking with me. We met today, over lunch, and I really do believe her intentions are not bad. Did you know her son is also going to be teaching at Hogwarts? I didn’t see him, but Narcissa seems beyond proud of him. She says that it’s thanks to you he’s able to have such an opportunity. From the sounds of things, they’re both quite grateful for what you’ve done for them.
She said that he would like to meet Teddy, sometime. I’m aware that you’ve had your differences in the past, but I think Teddy might appreciate the extra company. She and Draco were going to visit on Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps you would like to come?
Harry sighs, watching Andromeda’s owl warily. Like McGonagall’s, it doesn’t seem intent on going anywhere until it has a letter to return to its owner, but Harry thinks he could probably shoo it away if he really wanted to.
He’s not sure, yet, though, whether he does want to or not.
For now, he goes to fetch some parchment so he can write a response. If nothing else, he does want to see Teddy, and while a few hours spent with Malfoy and his mother doesn’t sound overly pleasant, Harry supposes it’s not such a bad exchange. He’ll have to get used to Malfoy’s company anyway, apparently, if what Andromeda wrote is true.
Little seems to shock him anymore, he finds. A few years ago, the thought of having to work with Malfoy would be enough to set him into a rage, but now… Well, it doesn’t matter, does it? He needs something to do, other than cleaning and burning letters.
That’s great! I’ll be there on Wednesday.
He folds it up and shakes his head, tying it to the owl’s leg before letting the creature out the window again.
It’s only noon, now. He’s been awake since four, and his vision is beginning to swim. He rises on shaky legs and returns to bed, already sure that today will be a wasted one.
August 19, 1998
When he arrives at Andromeda’s house, he’s glad to see that he is not the first to get there.
Andromeda answers the door with a smile, but leads him into the sitting room with quiet haste. When he enters, Narcissa Malfoy rises to greet him.
“Mr Potter,” she says quietly. “Thank you for allowing us to come here.”
Harry shakes his head. “It’s not my choice, Mrs Malfoy.”
Her lips twitch up a bit, but Harry notes that her face looks very tired. Her blue eyes are dull, and her smile doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting them. Though her hair is pinned up elegantly, and she wears robes of gorgeous black silk, Harry gets the feeling that she has put little effort into her appearance today.
He thinks he understands, though it is a grim sort of thing. The lack of sleep surely shows on his face just as clearly as it does on hers.
Behind her sits Malfoy, but he doesn’t look up at them as they talk. Instead, he is focussed on Teddy, who is sat on the floor by his feet, smiling and babbling at the blond.
“It is,” Narcissa says firmly. “Andromeda values your opinion on this, and so I shall do the same. A child’s life is very important, Mr Potter, and those who exist within it will shape that child’s future indefinitely.”
Harry’s breath catches in his throat, and he looks away from her. “Right,” he says softly. “That’s true, Mrs Malfoy.”
“Have some tea, Harry.” Andromeda offers a cup out to him, then gestures to an empty chair across from the couch Malfoy is sitting on.
He nods weakly, sitting and looking down into the tea with an uncomfortable, yet familiar, tug in his stomach.
He didn’t sleep well last night, he reasons. It’s clearly affecting his emotions, or he wouldn’t have connected Narcissa’s words to his own childhood. Or Sirius and Remus, and the parents he never really knew.
It’s ridiculous, sometimes, how quickly his own thoughts turn on him.
“He really is a sweet boy,” Narcissa says quietly, resuming her seat beside her son. Teddy looks over to her with bright eyes, attempting to crawl over Malfoy’s feet to get to her.
Andromeda smiles. “He is. A lot like his mother was, at this age.”
Harry can see it, too. Though he doesn’t have control of his abilities yet, he seems to favour a pink shade in his hair, at least for right now. But he didn’t know Tonks very well, himself. In this case, he supposes Andromeda would know best.
“Such an impressive ability,” Narcissa muses. “It’s strange to think such a thing may have been hiding in our genes.”
“It could have been Ted,” Andromeda says quietly, and Harry sees Narcissa’s shoulders tense.
And then they fall, and she murmurs something along the lines of “Yes, of course.”
Harry keeps his gaze fixed down on his tea until there is no more liquid in the cup to look at. He thinks back to Andromeda’s letter, the part about Malfoy teaching at Hogwarts, but pushes the thought aside quickly. If he has to work with Malfoy, bringing it up now won’t make a difference. Besides, Malfoy is just as quiet as he is, eyes loosely following Teddy as he crawls around between his and his mother’s feet. It almost seems as though he is actively keeping from meeting Harry’s eyes, and Harry almost finds himself grateful for it.
“He seems to like you,” Andromeda is saying. “You’ll have to come more often, now that Harry is going away.”
Not that Harry ever visited before, though neither of them are going to say it.
“Going away?” echoes Narcissa. “Where is he going?”
“Hogwarts,” Harry puts in before Andromeda can say anything, hating being talked about when he’s perfectly capable of answering for himself. “Professor McGonagall offered me a job.”
Harry watches as Malfoy lifts his gaze, just a bit, grey eyes calculating from across the room.
“Oh? Draco as well.” Narcissa’s lips curl up a bit. “It is quite the honour, especially when you are both so young.”
Harry inclines his head slightly. “It is, Mrs Malfoy.”
“Draco has always been very talented with Transfiguration,” Narcissa continues, and, here, boasting about her only son, Harry can see the comfort in this position. It is familiar. Something she enjoys doing. Because she’s proud of him? Or maybe she just likes the attention it puts on her, as the person who raised him.
“Nymphadora was as well,” Andromeda says with a soft smile. “But very well-rounded, overall… You have to be, to become an Auror, don’t you?”
Harry nods. “Five N.E.W.T.s, I think. Exceeds Expectations or Outstanding. That’s what I wanted to do,” he adds, mostly for Andromeda’s benefit. “Lots of talented Aurors in the Order. They made for a good example.”
Andromeda beams. “Yes, that’s true, Harry. Nymphadora loved her job dearly. She would’ve loved to see you go through Auror training.”
Harry looks back down at his empty cup, stomach twisting. Auror training. Stupid Auror training.
“But I’m not doing that,” he says quickly, throat tightening with a desperation to get away from this topic. “Professor McGonagall seemed to think this would be a better fit for me, anyway.”
“She said something similar to Draco,” Narcissa informs him, voice swelled with pride. “I believe it, of course. He really is very talented,” she adds, like it is a secret and she hasn’t said the exact same thing only two minutes ago.
“Mother,” Malfoy says warningly.
“It’s the truth, Draco.” Narcissa sits up straight, sniffing. “You know it is.”
“The truth,” Malfoy says, voice rough, “is that very few people want to hire ex-Death Eaters.” He looks at Harry, who quickly averts his gaze, then gives a short, impatient sigh. “It has very little to do with my talents, Mother.”
“But they signalled you out,” Narcissa insists.
Malfoy says nothing.
Narcissa shoots Andromeda a weary smile. “Cold feet, I suppose. Such a big change isn’t easy.”
Is it a big change? Harry honestly hasn’t thought about it that way, but he supposes it is. A big change from tea at three in the morning after a night full of awful dreams and afternoon naps and cleaning the house to avoid thinking about all the death within it.
And that realization twists his gut fiercely, shooting ice through his veins.
Abruptly, he reaches forward to place his cup on the table, then stands up.
“I should really be going,” he tells Andromeda, trying for apologetic but surely failing. “It was—nice to see you. And Teddy.”
But he can’t look at his godson, or Andromeda.
“Are you sure?” Andromeda’s tone is alarmed. “You haven’t been here very long. I can make—”
“I’m sure,” Harry says firmly. “Thank you. I’ll write.” He glances at Malfoy and Narcissa. “Mrs Malfoy,” he acknowledges.
And then he turns and makes for the door before any of them can say anything more, knowing that it does no good to stay here while his mind is circling through this ridiculous cycle again.
It’s not unfamiliar, by any means. It’s the path of thoughts that ultimately drew him away from Auror training. That drove him to keep cleaning an already-clean house as if it could some absolve him of his own dirtiness.
He Apparates to Grimmauld Place, and makes some tea. Maybe this was a mistake, but it’s surely too late to back out now. Perhaps it will end the same way his two weeks in Auror training did, and once McGonagall sees how mad he is, she’ll send him away. And then he can clean some more, and put more letters in that upstairs room, and stop thinking.
It isn’t a pleasant thought, not really, but it sticks. Two weeks he lasted in Auror training. If he makes it longer at Hogwarts, it will be a miracle.
August 24, 1998
“Your duty is to the students in this school, above all else.” McGonagall’s gaze is severe as it sweeps across those gathered before her. “Given the circumstances, many of these students will be behind in their studies. Others will be struggling where they did not struggle before. It is your job, then, to ensure their success. Do you understand?”
There is a silent agreement throughout the room, and the Headmistress nods tersely.
“Then,” she says. “You may go. Potter, Longbottom, Malfoy—with me, if you please.”
With a wave, she sends the other gathered staff members down the hall, then turns to lead the indicated three towards the gargoyle statue. They come up to her office in complete silence, and remain standing until she has taken her own seat and looks up at them, unimpressed.
Hastening to sit down beside Neville, Harry folds his hands in his lap and looks at the stern professor nervously. He feels a bit like a first year student again, being disciplined for the first time. Or, perhaps, like when he and Ron flew Mr Weasley’s car to Hogwarts, and were threatened with expulsion. Yes, he thinks confidently. It feels just like that.
“You must first acquaint yourselves with the course material you will be teaching,” McGonagall says briskly. “While, typically, one would have to excel at his or her N.E.W.T. to be considered eligible to teach the content of that class, your situations are not the typical one. All of you are here for a reason, understand. If I didn’t believe you capable, I would not have asked you to come here. Understood?”
All of them nod in agreement, though their tension sings through the room loudly in the absence of their voices.
“In the next week, you will be working closely with your mentor professor to prepare for the term,” McGonagall continues. “But should you need me, you will always have access to my office, as any other professor would. Your individual quarters have been assigned near your respective offices. As staff members, you have the ability to give and take points, and to assign detentions and contact parents as you see fit. However,” she says, sweeping a significant look over all of them, “should it come to light that you are in any way abusing this privilege, I will of course intervene.”
“But Professor Snape did that all the time,” Harry points out, shooting a cheeky grin towards the man in question.
Snape scowls back at him from his portrait. “Only for insufferable idiots like you, Potter!”
McGonagall sighs tiredly. “Your interactions with Professor Snape are what you make them, Harry, but it is not my place to interfere with the lessons he imparts to you unless I feel they are entirely out of line.”
“I assure you, Minerva, I will not be the one out of line.” Snape huffs, turning his back to them. Harry wonders if he knows just how much like a twelve-year-old he seems when he does that.
“That being said,” McGonagall says, fixing her gaze on Harry, “no matter either of your personal feelings on the matter, the situation won’t change, so please don’t think to ask me that it might.”
“I understand, ma’am.”
She nods. “Good. Then, why don’t we go for a walk?”
They all agree readily, and she leads them back down the spiral staircase. They first find Neville’s quarters, not too far from Gryffindor tower. And Harry’s, on the second floor, while Malfoy finds his on the ground floor. As McGonagall said they would be, Harry’s and Malfoy’s, at least, are not far from their respective classrooms.
As they walk the halls, McGonagall rehashes to them a few rules. “While you are no longer students,” she says, “you are still expected to adhere to what I say.”
Harry doesn’t think that will be a problem, in all honesty. Apparently, as professors, they’re allowed to do as much nighttime wandering as they wish (and are even expected to, sometimes, if they suspect students are out past curfew), and Harry lets that thought ease his mind, just a bit. Perhaps three in the morning tea is not off the table just yet.
Eventually, they circle back to McGonagall’s office, and she hands each of them a schedule.
“Dedicate it to memory,” she says severely. “You will not be happy when your class is full of unexpected first year students if you do not.”
“And for the next week, you just want us to plan?” Malfoy looks down at his schedule, a small frown tugging at his lips. “Is that really enough time?”
“If you allow me to help you, it certainly is.” McGonagall sits down behind her desk and looks up at the three of them. “And, as a final point, I would like to remind you all that regardless of any personal slights we may have with one another”—Harry doesn’t miss the way her eyes dart between him and Malfoy, here—“you are to maintain a professional and friendly relationship with your peers here. As such, you may call me Minerva, should we be in a situation like this. Do you understand?”
Again, they all agree, and she waves her hand dismissively. “Then, you may go.”
Malfoy and Neville start towards the door immediately, but before Harry can follow them, McGonagall says, “Professor Snape’s portrait will be moved to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom this afternoon.”
Harry turns to look at her, blinking. “And he’ll just stay there?”
“For the remainder of the year, yes. There is another portrait, however, in your office, that he can move between.”
Harry glances up at the portraits lining the wall. “Won’t he get bored, though? Without you and Professor Dumbledore to talk to, I mean.”
McGonagall’s gaze turns dark. “If you feel the need to engage in amiable chitchat with him, be my guest, but he will not return here until you both can prove that he has no reason anymore to remain with you.”
Harry laughs, almost sorry that Snape still has not returned from his brooding to hear the words. “Yes, Professor. Is that all?”
She hesitates a moment, and just when Harry thinks she is about to send him on his way, she says, “I am here not just to answer your work-related questions, you know.”
He frowns. “Sorry?”
“If you need anything,” she clarifies, “I am always available. I may not be your Head of House anymore, but…”
As the meaning of her words sinks in, Harry quickly shakes his head. “No, I’m okay, Professor, really. Thank you, but, er, I really am fine.”
“Of course,” she says quietly. “Then, you may go.”
Harry wastes no time in doing so, a familiar sort of tiredness weighing him down. It’s only just shy of noon, probably, and he knows that he ought to be fixing his sleep habits, if he’s going to make it through even a portion of this school year, but—
Well, he’s tired, dammit, and he only slept four hours last night. There’s always tomorrow, isn’t there? He can fix this tomorrow.
His quarters are already clean, of course, in preparation for his arrival. There’s a small kitchen, a single bedroom, a desk and a settee. Harry spends little time exploring, knowing that that will be a task better left for when he actually needs the distraction, and settles down on the settee to sleep, just until he has to meet McGonagall and Snape.
Tomorrow, he reasons. He can fix it tomorrow.
August 25, 1998
It is two in the morning.
Harry can remember many times, during his time at Hogwarts, that he was up this late. Finishing essays that were due that morning, sneaking about under the Cloak, and, yes, sometimes staring at the ceiling in annoyance because of nightmares. That part didn’t come until after fourth year, though, really, and those dreams were beyond mild compared to what wakes him up these days.
But he’s used to this, at least. And in some capacity, the normalcy of it is a bit appreciated in an unfamiliar environment. He is in Hogwarts, sure, but it’s not exactly the Gryffindor common room, is it?
He makes tea, then sits on the settee as he drinks it and stares at the wall. Focussed on the taste of the liquid, on the way the shadows fall across the room, he firmly pushes the memories trying to resurface from the nightmare away.
When his cup is empty, he rises and goes through the mechanical movements of washing it and putting it away. Then, he turns to explore the parts of his quarters that he didn’t see at first glance. There are books on the bookshelf by the settee, he notes, mostly about Defence Against the Dark Arts, though there are some Potions texts as well, he notes. Harry wonders who they belonged to first, aside from the books that are obviously Snape’s, then quickly decides he would rather not know. Many people had this job before him, after all, and it’s probable that they’ve left things behind over the years.
Looking away from that, he ventures into the bedroom. His belongings have been put here for him, though he really does have very little. His Cloak, clothes, the Marauder’s Map… In the bottom of his trunk, there are some pictures he found in Grimmauld place, of Sirius and Remus and his parents, but there aren’t very many of them at all. And the photo album Hagrid gave him all those years ago, filled with pictures of his parents. But he hasn’t looked at it in quite some time, now. He’s not sure he could stomach it, when he can still recall so clearly the way they looked when he held the Resurrection Stone in his hand, faced with his own death.
And he can’t really stomach the thought of it, either, so he pushes that away too and instead puts his attention solely on his surroundings.
Someone has taken care to furnish this place in a way they think he would like, he realizes. With reds and golds, much like the dorm he slept in for six years. There are no curtains on this bed, and it is bigger than the ones in the dorms, but it still feels the same, in a way.
There’s a wardrobe with a mirror on the inside, but little else.
Across from the bedroom is a small, private washroom. Again, there is not much inside it, and Harry must admit that there is really very little to see here. A quick check of the time informs him that he will still have to wait at least three hours until breakfast will be served, and he sits at the table miserably, debating what to do with this information.
After only about ten minutes, he stands and heads for the door. It’s not a long walk to the Defence classroom, and he can really only hope that Snape will be sleeping soundly within his portrait—or, better yet, will be in the cozier space offered by the portrait McGonagall has put in Harry’s office.
They spent the afternoon yesterday together in the classroom, Snape telling him what and what not to do, running through the syllabi Snape prepared when he was in the position, and only tweaking it slightly despite Harry’s more frequent protests. In fairness, Snape does have more experience with teaching than Harry, but he doesn’t have much more experience teaching this subject.
As per McGonagall’s suggestion, though, he’ll be taking the next week to familiarize himself with the texts they’ll be teaching over the course of the year. They’re the ones Snape set, though, McGonagall says, he can probably choose his own next year if he thinks an adjustment should be made.
Harry doesn’t know if it matters much, though. The seventh year text is still sitting on his desk in his classroom, and he settles down to begin reading again. He knows the content already, for the most part. While he was only a fifth year at the time, he did spend quite a bit of his time learning beyond his level in order to effectively teach even the students with more classroom experience than him.
Still, he flips through it anyway, only half the words really registering as his eyes scan over them.
“What in the world are you doing, Potter?”
Harry gets the feeling that Snape probably isn’t a morning person. Never turning his gaze away from the textbook, he says, “Reading.”
“Clearly.” The sneer is obvious in the painted man’s voice. “But most civilized people would be asleep at this time.”
Harry’s lips twitch up a bit at that. “You’re hardly one to say what civilized people do, surely?”
“You still haven’t answered my question, Potter.”
“Yes, I did.” He flips the page. “It’s too early for breakfast, isn’t it? Oh, wait. You wouldn’t know, would you? Sorry, Professor, I didn’t mean to offend.”
“Trust me, Potter, I am well aware of my limitations. But I, unlike you, do not need sleep to continue existing.”
“But I woke you up?”
Snape pauses. Then, he says, “No, and that is not the point.”
“Well, stop complaining, then.” Harry folds the corner of the page and closes it before finally turning to face the grouchy Potions Master. “I’m doing what you told me to do, for the record.”
“I’m aware,” Snape says, eyes narrowed. “But I never told you to do it at three in the morning.”
“It’s closer to four, now.”
“That is irrelevant.”
“Not really.” Harry stands, pushing the chair at the desk in and stepping out from around it. “And, anyway,” he adds, “I hardly think you need to impose a bedtime on me.”
“I never said anything of the sort,” Snape says, huffing. “You are an insufferable brat, Potter.”
Harry sets about exploring this new space too, searching for all the nooks and crannies he wouldn’t have ever thought to look for as a student. It occurs to him, suddenly, that there are a lot of places an unwanted person could hide in this classroom.
“What are you looking for?” Snape demands.
“Nothing,” Harry says. “Everything. Do you know how well-repaired the wards are on Hogwarts?”
“I’m sure they are beyond acceptable standard. Are you always so paranoid, or is it simply the ungodly hour of the day?”
“I’m not paranoid.” Harry sets his hand against the desk closest to him and glares at Snape. “Maybe I just like to be cautious. Besides, how many times did people tell me Hogwarts was the safest place in the world, only for Voldemort to try and kill me here anyway? At least at home I know I’m the only one who can mess with my wards.”
“You are paranoid, Potter.” Snape shakes his head. “And your paranoia is quite offensive to the Headmistress, mind.”
“You are annoying. I see why McGonagall wanted to get rid of you so badly.”
“I am doing this for your benefit, Potter.”
Harry ignores him, resuming his search of the classroom. Eventually, Snape’s biting words fade out completely, and his watch informs him that breakfast will be starting in fifteen minutes. He leaves Snape on his own and heads for the Great Hall.
To his surprise, he isn’t the first person there. At the middle of the table sits McGonagall, Malfoy on her right side. They’re conversing quietly over what looks to be two goblets of water, but they both quiet and turn to look as Harry enters the Hall.
Briefly, he considers turning and walking away. He really hasn’t slept enough for this, after all.
But his feet carry him up to the table anyway, and he finds himself taking the seat beside Malfoy with a quiet “Good morning” directed at the both of them.
“You never struck me as much of a morning person, Potter,” Malfoy says.
“I’m not, really.”
“You don’t have to be here so early,” McGonagall tells him after a brief pause wherein she considers both him and Malfoy. “Your attendance at mealtimes will be no different from when you were a student.”
Harry nods, not sure if it would be better or worse to outright agree with her assumption.
Thankfully, he is saved from having to decide as food begins to appear on the table. He busies himself with filling his plate, wishing he could at least pretend to have an appetite. As it is, he eats little more than toast, and he slips out of the Hall again before Malfoy or McGonagall can say another word to him.
He returns to the classroom, and while Snape is still annoyed with him, he’s willing to be productive now, at least.
By noon, he feels they have made little progress at all, and his eyes are beginning to droop just a bit. Shaking himself, he focusses on reading more from the seventh year textbook, but it is a hopeless task; within mere minutes, his eyelids are closing, and it is only the snappish shout of “Potter!” that makes him lift his head again.
He hastens to right his glasses, then turns and glares at Snape.
“You are meant to sleep in the night, Potter, not the middle of the day.”
“I wasn’t sleeping,” Harry protests weakly.
“Yes, you were.” Snape looks down at him with disgust. “Perhaps, if you slept at three in the morning, you would not be so tired now.”
Harry sighs, turning to look at his book again. He can’t stop Snape from lecturing him, but that doesn’t mean he has to listen.
“How would you ever expect to teach classes like this?” Snape is saying. “Idiot boy! I won’t wake you up every time you foolishly doze off after staying up too late. Minerva had assured me that you were not the same arrogant brat you were in school, but I fear she—”
Harry looks up, blinking, to see Malfoy standing at the entrance to the classroom. He stands with confidence, but his eyes betray his uncertainty, darting from one side of the classroom to the other, as if looking for threats.
And Snape says Harry is paranoid.
“—Clearly, she intentionally misdirected me, perhaps because she believes that even in my death I should have to suffer at the hands of another miserable Potter boy, as if I have not—”
“Shut up,” Harry says wearily. “Do you need something, Malfoy?”
With hesitant steps, Malfoy enters the room and comes to a halt before Harry’s desk. He sets something between them, and Harry peers over to see what it is.
“It’s from my aunt,” Malfoy says diplomatically. “I thought, perhaps, you might want to see it too.”
It’s a picture of Teddy, waving enthusiastically at the camera and babbling something to his grandmother, most likely. His hair is brilliantly red, his eyes a vivid blue.
Harry’s throat tightens. “Andromeda sent this to you?”
Malfoy eyes him curiously. “I asked her to.”
“It’s something my mother wants. Family. She’s trying to get that back, now.” Malfoy pauses, then pulls the picture away. “My aunt told me you don’t visit often.”
Harry watches the place on the desk where the picture was, at a loss for words.
“But if you asked her,” Malfoy adds, “perhaps she would send you photos, too. He is your godson, after all.”
Harry doesn’t know if the words are supposed to sting, but, then, this is Malfoy. Of course they are. No matter what Andromeda said about him being grateful for what Harry said at his trial, he is still, well, Malfoy.
“I don’t see how any of this is really your business,” Harry finally snaps.
“It’s not, really.” Malfoy narrows his eyes. “I just thought you might like to know that the option is there. While I’m sure Professor Snape is excellent company, maybe you might want pictures of someone you care about around you too.”
“I care about Professor Snape,” Harry mutters sullenly.
“You care about driving me to absolute insanity, you mean,” Snape shoots back, tone sour.
Harry glares at him. “Because I don’t go to sleep at your imposed bedtime?”
“Because you are an idiot, Potter.”
When Harry looks back at Malfoy, he sees the blond’s lips twitching, as if he is trying not to laugh.
“Well, thanks,” he says, trying and failing miserably to sound cold. “But if you want to torment me with something, there are better ways to do than use a baby as leverage.”
“Who said anything about tormenting you?” Malfoy raises an eyebrow at him. “I’m not twelve anymore, Potter. I bring it up because your absence in Teddy’s life makes my aunt unhappy, and my mother desperately needs someone happy in her life now. It has nothing to do with you, I assure you.”
Harry sighs, looking down at his book, unseeing. “It’s still none of your business.”
“And yet you envy me for having something that is well within your reach.” Malfoy shakes his head. “Do try writing to her, at least. See you around, Potter.”
And, with that, he leaves. Harry can only watch where he has walked away, mouth dry.
“You are pathetic, Potter,” comments Snape.
“Yeah,” Harry mutters, shaking himself and moving to find some parchment and a quill and ink in the desk drawers. “I know.”
And, cursing Malfoy, and maybe himself, too, just a bit, Harry writes a letter to Andromeda.
August 30, 1998
“You are falling asleep, Potter.”
Harry scowls. “I am not.”
“I was a teacher long enough to see the signs,” Snape tells him, irritated. “It is one o’clock—”
“—and you are falling asleep at your desk for the fifth day in a row.”
“Maybe you’re just boring me to death,” Harry grumbles.
“Yes, very good, Potter,” he drawls. “Blame others for your own very obvious shortcomings.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me!”
“I could list many things wrong with you, Potter, but it would take more days than we have together.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Harry says impatiently. “I’ll be fine, and, anyway, I think you would miss me if I didn’t come around after three-a.m. tea.”
“I can’t say I ever really find myself looking forward to your company, actually.”
“But who would you complain to?” Harry sighs, leaning his elbows against the desk and rubbing at his eyes. “I won’t pass out in the middle of class, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ll even start drinking coffee, if that will make you feel better.”
“Maybe you could try sleeping through the night,” Snape suggests.
“Maybe you could try minding your own business,” Harry mutters.
“I see you two are getting along as famously as ever.”
Harry looks up to see McGonagall striding into the room, amusement written all over her face. Yes, of course she would be laughing, Harry thinks. She’s the one who manufactured all of this, after all.
“Good afternoon,” he says as pleasantly as he can. “I don’t suppose you’re about to offer to take Professor Snape back?”
“Not today,” McGonagall says. “I daresay he’s been enjoying your companionship this past week.”
“He is a nuisance, Minerva.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “It’s been interesting, to say the least. Do you want to sit?” Without waiting for her to speak, he picks up his wand and Conjures a chair for her.
She takes the seat and folds her hands in her lap, studying Harry very carefully. “I wanted to see how you were settling. Severus informs me you’re aptly prepared for the term?”
Harry blinks. “He said that?”
She inclines her head. “Yes. We went over the course plans, and I must say I agree. There is no such thing as too much preparation, however.”
“Oh, I know, Professor.” He smiles wryly. “I’ll be ready for the first day, promise.”
“A good place to start,” says Snape loudly, “is with a good night of sleep.”
Harry ignores him. “I think the hardest part is really just trying to figure out what the past professors didn’t teach. Which is a lot,” he adds. “I might be nervous about this if Lockhart hadn’t been one of my earliest examples.”
McGonagall’s lips twitch up at that. “Yes, I would think so. I have the utmost faith in you, though, Harry. I truly do think this is a good fit for you. Honestly, I had been a bit surprised when you said you wanted to be an Auror.” She shakes her head. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Your father was the same, after all.”
“Well, thanks.” Harry tries for a smile, but fears he fails quite miserably.
“You’ll see in time,” she insists. “It is a good fit for you. You wouldn’t have done the things you did in school if it were not.”
Harry looks down. “Er, thanks, Professor, but I really just did what I had to do. I dunno if it really means anything else.”
When Harry glances up at her again, he thinks her eyes are twinkling a bit. Is that something one learns when they become the head of the school? Perhaps Dumbledore taught her. Soon she’ll be offering him lemon drops every time he sees her.
“You’ll see,” she says. “Now, I wanted to remind you that you are, of course, required to attend the feast on Tuesday. Classes will begin the following day, so do be on time for that. Other than that, everything has been addressed or will be when all are in attendance. Do you understand?”
“Good. Then, I will leave you and Severus alone, but good luck. Should you need me, I am always available to you.”
This smile feels a little more genuine. “Thanks, Professor McGonagall.”
“Minerva,” she reminds him. “Have a good afternoon, Harry.”
With that, she rises and turns to go. Harry watches for a moment, then waves his hand to Banish the chair. It’s getting easier to do wandless magic nonverbally, he notes with great pride.
“I’m surprised that is not a talent you wanted to show off to the Headmistress,” Snape drawls. “How long have you been able to do that?”
Harry shrugs. “I started trying it over the summer. Before I had someone to keep me company at three in the morning,” he adds cheekily.
“You are depraved, Potter.”
“You’re one to talk!”
“Perhaps, if you told me why you refuse to sleep, I could prescribe you a potion,” Snape says, not for the first time. “But there is no cure for stubbornness, or I would’ve given it to you seven years ago.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Harry responds, also not for the first time. “Since you’re so worried about me falling asleep, I’ll go for a walk, get some fresh air. Not that you would understand what that feels like.”
“I beg to differ.” Snape sniffs indignantly. “It is a breath of fresh air every time you leave this classroom.”
Then, Harry supposes, it will be a welcome reprieve for both of them.
Standing up, he says, “I’ll be back in an hour.”
“I will be counting down the minutes with dread, I assure you.”
Harry rolls his eyes, but doesn’t bother giving the man a response. One thing, at least, is that nobody is expecting him to be respectful towards Snape. He does have some respect for the man—it would be hard not to, after seeing what he died for—but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to get back for the past six years. Besides, anything aside from biting remarks between the two of them would just be weird, and Harry figures he’s got enough weird in his life already.
He walks out to the grounds, focussing on the feeling of the late summer sun above him, rather than…well, everything else. It’s true that he needs more sleep, but he doesn’t get why Snape seems to think it’s any of his business. Harry is fine. He just has nightmares. But he doesn’t have them if he doesn’t sleep.
So, he’s fine.
But that’s what he said about Auror training, too, his mind supplies unhelpfully.
He wanders around the lake, pushing the thoughts away. It’s quiet, in a way Harry supposes it won’t be in a week. That’s not so bad, though; the quiet leaves more room to think, after all.
As he loops around the lake, he sees someone else walking in his direction, and squints against the harsh glare of the sun to see who it is.
And, of course, before he can even plan his escape, Malfoy calls out to him, “Potter!”
Harry suppresses a groan. He came outside to get away from snotty Slytherin gits, not find himself another one. But, he thinks, Malfoy hasn’t really been so bad since they got here. Aside from their conversation about Andromeda and Teddy, Malfoy hasn’t even really engaged with him much at all. They greet each other at breakfast—though Harry would hesitate to say it is in a friendly manner—because they are always some of the first people there, and then again at dinner, when they inevitably wind up stuck sitting beside each other. Harry doesn’t eat lunch, much to Snape’s chagrin, but he figures they’d probably be sat together at that, too.
He comes to a stop just a few metres away from the blond, loosing a tired sigh. “Malfoy,” he acknowledges.
Now that he is closer, Harry can see that Malfoy is clearly pissed off about something. He’s scowling, and his eyebrows are knitted together tightly.
It occurs to Harry, suddenly, that every other time he has seen Malfoy since his trial, he has looked rather…emotionless.
“McGonagall seems to think that we don’t get along,” Malfoy tells him, irritation laced all through his voice.
Harry blinks. “Er, well, is she wrong?”
“Doesn’t matter.” Malfoy waves a dismissive hand at him. “She said that we need to start, though. Or something like that.”
“Huh?” Harry frowns at him. “Why does it matter? And we’re getting along just fine right now, aren’t we? Are you having me on, Malfoy?”
“No!” Malfoy glares at him. “I’m just saying what she told me. And I wouldn’t be so annoyed with you if you just stayed in one place, for Merlin’s sake. Snape told me you left in a huff and didn’t say where you were going.”
“I did not leave in a huff.” Harry crosses his arms over his chest, considering some choice words for his mentor. “And I did so tell him where I was going, because he seems to think I’m some little kid who needs looking after.”
“Maybe a leash would be helpful for you,” Malfoy grumbles.
“Nothing.” Malfoy shakes his head. “Listen, I don’t care if you don’t like me. But I need this job, and since McGonagall would choose you over me in a heartbeat, all I’m asking for is your word that you won’t fuck this up for me. Do you understand, Potter? She’s saying we need to get along because she’s looking for an excuse to make me leave.”
Harry thinks about that for a moment, then uncrosses his arms and studies Malfoy carefully. “I think you’re being a bit overdramatic.”
“I am not, Potter, and I would thank you not to suggest so again.”
“No, no, you are. McGonagall offered you the job, didn’t she? I don’t think she’s just itching to get rid of you. Now, if you don’t mind, I should probably get back, so my live-in dead man can yell at me some more.”
But as Harry goes to walk past him, Malfoy grips his wrist. Hard.
“Don’t walk away from me,” he says. “I’m completely serious, Potter. You wouldn’t understand. Nobody wants someone who’s Marked to associate with them.”
Harry sighs, glancing back at him. “But she offered you the job.”
“Because Snape told her to!”
Harry only lets that surprise him for a second, and then he says, “She didn’t have to listen to him, though. And, really, Malfoy, I’m associating with you just fine. If it bothered me that much, I would have told them to send you to Azkaban with your father.”
Malfoy’s jaw tightens, but he says nothing.
“And Snape was Marked, too, but he still taught here.”
“He was a spy.”
“And you saved my life.”
Malfoy scowls at him. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not. Will you let me go, now? I’m not going to get you sacked, I swear.”
Malfoy’s eyes scan his face for a long moment, and then he drops his grip on Harry. “Call me Draco, then.”
“Just with her,” Malfoy insists. “So she thinks we’re being friendly. It’s professional, Potter, though I’m sure you wouldn’t understand the meaning of that if it bit you on the arse.”
“You’re not making a very good case for yourself,” Harry points out.
Malfoy rolls his eyes. “It’s just a request, Potter. I can’t say you have to do it, and I certainly don’t need to kiss your feet like any other person would.”
Now, it is Harry’s turn to scowl. “Fuck off, Malfoy.”
This time, when he turns around, Malfoy doesn’t reach out for him. He stalks back to the castle, unable to keep the anger off his face. After that interaction, he’s almost looking forward to going back to Snape.
And isn’t that just all kinds of miserable, he thinks, stifling a snort.
He has a feeling that if he makes it through all this, it will be a very, very long year.