How early was too early to show up for your first day at a new job?
Draco pondered this question as he sat at a small wooden table in the corner of the enormous Manor kitchen, nibbling on a piece of cold toast slathered with slowly congealing butter.
Did the answer change when the job was at the Ministry of Magic, for a department that had once tried to send Draco to Azkaban, in a country where he'd been universally reviled before he'd fucked off to Italy ten years ago? His stomach churned, and he threw the toast down onto his plate next to its uneaten brethren. He was too nervous to even keep down a single slice of toast—not a good sign.
Draco was beginning to reevaluate his decision to return to England.
It had been just over ten years since he'd left in disgrace, right after the horrifying circus of the post-war trials. He'd somehow managed to get off with little more than a slap on the wrist, likely due to Potter's unexpected testimony on his behalf. But his father had been sentenced to Azkaban, his mother exiled from Britain, and their entire family had been fined a truly astronomical sum in reparations—which, given how much money was in the Malfoy coffers, was really saying something. They'd managed to keep the Manor—for all the good that did them—but their home had been all but gutted, its contents sold to help make up the debt they owed society.
Draco had been welcome to stay in Britain, but he thought it best if he cut his losses. With little money, even less family, and most of his friends dead or already abroad, what more was there to keep him here?
Not to mention the teensy, tiny—almost inconsequential, really—revelation that Draco was not, in fact, one of those pure-blood wizards his family had fought so hard to make the ruling class.
He was a Veela.
He'd manifested on his seventeenth birthday, which had been a horrifying revelation for all affected parties—Draco included—given they were in the middle of a war and his family propagated the ideology that Magical Creatures were inferior and should be either subjugated or exterminated. He and his parents had miraculously managed to keep Draco's nature a secret from Voldemort and the rest of the world throughout the duration of the war, but Draco's luck hadn't held much longer than that. His arrest and subsequent holding, pending a formal trial, had been one stressor too many, and his frayed temper had snapped, sending him into full-on Veela Fury right in the middle of the Ministry.
As if he didn't already have enough strikes against him.
There'd been no avoiding official registry with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures after that, and given that the Creature, Being, & Spirit Registry was a matter of public record, it was no surprise when, not even a week later, the Prophet had been trumpeting the news of Draco's affliction throughout the country. It was just another reason for the public to view him with suspicion and disgust, and most seemed to hold the view that it served him right: Draco Malfoy, the pure-blood bigot whose blood wasn't so pure after all.
Draco didn't blame them. He'd been telling himself the same thing the moment his wings had burst from his back in an explosion of agony and shame.
So Draco had left Britain and never looked back, accompanying his mother to Italy and, in a truly bizarre turn of events, eventually working for the Italian Ministry as an Auror. Italy's warmer climate was perfectly suited to Veela, and Sicily—where they'd settled—boasted a robust population. Draco wouldn't say anti-Veela bias was non-existent, but the discrimination was certainly less prevelant than in Britain, and the restrictions on Beings holding government jobs was significantly less stringent. More importantly, the Malfoy name didn't have quite the black stain in Italy as it had back home, and without that cloud hanging over him, Draco found himself free, for the first time in his life, to be whatever and whoever he wanted, unencumbered by familial or societal expectations. Certainly his mother still had her opinions, but exile and the separation from Lucius had diminished her, and Draco found it much easier to stand up for his convictions, to stand true to the person he wanted to become.
He'd blossomed in Italy. Even his mother had thought so, telling Draco on her deathbed that it had been her greatest joy in life to finally see Draco settled and happy after all they'd put him through. Draco wasn't quite sure he'd have gone so far as to say he was happy, but he was content at least, and he was hardly going to argue semantics with his dying mother. She, too, had found a measure of peace in Italy, even if the separation from Lucius, the love of her life, had slowly drained her of her will to live—Lucius's death in Azkaban last year had been the final nail in her coffin. Given Narcissa's exile, she'd not even been allowed to return to Britain to attend his funeral and give him a final goodbye, and it seemed to Draco that she'd instead chosen to hasten her own demise so that they could be reunited in the afterlife. There was a part of Draco that resented her for that, for so deeply loving such a flawed man, and for refusing to fight and stay alive, not even for her only son. And now Draco was all alone in the world. An Orphan.
Without his mother Draco had been adrift. Perhaps that was why he'd decided to come home at last, to face the demons of his past in the hopes that closure would allow him to fully move on. He wouldn't have been able to afford to return without a secured position, unwilling to take the gamble that a Malfoy would be able to find decent employment in a country that despised him. It had come as a shock when the British Ministry of Magic reached out to him first, practically begging Draco to come and work for them in a truly surreal turn of events.
Apparently they were piloting a new programme, a collaboration between their Auror Department and the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, with the idea of pairing a human wizard from the Auror Department with a Magical Being trained in law enforcement procedures. They hoped that not only would this foster a greater trust and understanding of Magical Creatures within wizarding Britain, but that it would aid in the solving of Magical Creature-related crimes, which historically had one of the lowest solve-rates within the Auror Department. It was all very lofty and aspirational, but the Ministry had run into several issues when it came to filling the inaugural Magical Being role. In Draco's opinion it was hardly a surprise really, given that Beings had been prohibited from serving in any sort of law enforcement capacity in Britain—or at least they had when Draco had left ten years ago. Given the rampant discrimination, most Beings regarded the magical government to be generally untrustworthy, relying instead on their own discreet governing bodies to police disputes within their communities.
Draco, apparently, was the perfect candidate, even with his incredibly checkered past, and the British Ministry had pursued him doggedly with the desperate hope that he'd agree to sign on. Not only was he a Magical Being and a British citizen, but he also had an extensive background in magical law enforcement that would significantly reduce the time needed to officially launch the programme. Of course, his knowledge was based on Italian protocols, but the Ministry assured him that it was a matter of semantics, and had no doubt that he’d pick up the British way of doing things quickly.
Draco had been wary. The idea of returning to Britain had some appeal, he couldn't deny that. But to work for the Ministry of Magic as an Auror? With a partner, who'd presumably know exactly who Draco was and what he and his family had done during the war? Draco couldn't see how that would end well. Draco had been concerned that it might actually put the programme in jeopardy, having him as their test case, but apparently he was all but their last hope. It was possible they'd need to abandon the project entirely if they weren't able to recruit a Magical Being by the end of the year, finally giving a plausible reason as to why they seemed so bloody keen to recruit Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater, to their cause. Still, it was nice to be wanted—needed—and he did feel a particular yearning to return home. So Draco had said yes, reluctantly, and had been told to report to the Ministry of Magic at nine AM sharp on Monday the first of December.
The idea was that he'd spend the first month getting acquainted with his new partner and learning protocol and procedure before the real work began in the new year. It was supposed to be a relatively relaxed first few weeks to ease him and his partner into their new roles, but now, sitting at his table with the large clock on the wall tick-tick-ticking loudly in the silence of the kitchen, Draco felt anything but relaxed. He still had no idea who his partner would be—it wasn't only Magical Beings who'd been hesitant to sign on—and he had no clue what kind of reception to expect. He couldn't imagine it would be positive, no matter what the overly cheerful recruiter had said.
The clock chimed once, indicating it was half past eight, and Draco stood, deciding it was now within an acceptable time-frame to head into work. The Manor had been disconnected from the Floo Network when they'd left Britain and Draco had yet to reconnect it, which meant he'd need the extra time to get through to the Ministry via one of the visitors' entrances. He was already dressed and ready to go, and he paused only to put on his heavy winter cloak and grab his leather satchel before Disapparating.
He appeared at one of the Apparition Points in Muggle London, the location tucked out of sight from the bustling thoroughfare beneath heavy wards. He shivered, the winter air even colder than he'd been anticipating—had winter always been so cold in England?—and he took a moment while he was still hidden away from the Muggles to reinforce the Warming Charms on his cloak before stepping out onto the bustling street.
He'd been out in Muggle London rarely as a boy, and though he'd become quite familiar with Muggles while in Italy, it was still strange being surrounded by so many of them now. This was his country, the place where he grew up, and yet, it wasn't. The world around him was so unfamiliar. It felt almost impossible that, throughout his entire childhood, this whole other city had been just out of sight. He couldn't help but pity his father for his ignorance and prejudice, for his closed-off mind that had prevented him from seeing the beauty of this foreign world. That had prevented Draco from seeing it. But he was here now, and if he spent too much longer appreciating the sight of briskly walking Muggles on their way to work, Draco would be late.
Draco remained alert as he walked, eyeing the street signs so he wouldn't miss his turn. He'd never used this entrance before, and he hoped his liaison at the Ministry had given him all the information he needed. He was looking for a red telephone booth, and though he knew it wasn't on this particular street, it didn't stop him from scrutinising each box he passed, doing a double-take when he passed a booth that… yes, that was definitely a snowman inside the box, which surely wasn't normal… was it? For all that he was more accustomed to Muggles now, Draco didn't think he'd ever understand them. He shook his head, but kept on walking. He had no time for such nonsense today.
He finally found the street he was looking for and turned onto a dingy side road containing several shabby offices, a pub that looked more East End boozer than smart drinking establishment, and a wall covered with neon-coloured graffiti. Draco took all this in with a wrinkle of his nose before catching sight of the bright red phone booth with an Out of Order sign on the front, and he quickly made his way into the cramped space. He picked up the phone and took out a piece of parchment, dialing 6-2-4-4-2 as instructed. The moment he'd pressed the final '2', a friendly voice welcomed him, the sound seeming to come not from the phone but from the air around him.
"Please state your name and business."
"Draco Malfoy. I'm here for my first day of work in the Auror Department."
As he finished speaking, a silver badge popped out of the coin dispenser on the phone with the words "Draco Malfoy, New Employee" written in block letters. The moment Draco picked up the badge, the telephone booth dropped right through the pavement and began to travel through the earth. It was a disconcerting experience, but Draco had expected something of the like, knowing that the Ministry was well-below ground, so he affixed his badge to his robes and settled in for the ride.
Less than a minute later, Draco was stepping into the Ministry Atrium where he was hit by a wave of nostalgia. It was mostly bad, but there were good memories, too. He'd loved coming to the Ministry with his father as a boy, being greeted like a prince and watching people fawn over the powerful Lucius Malfoy. Then again, even those had been tainted by the war and the knowledge that Draco had eventually gained. Now, he couldn't help but wonder what self-serving agenda his father had been furthering on each of those once-treasured visits.
He briskly made his way through security, submitting his new wand for inspection. His old wand hadn't been working well for him even before Potter had snatched it away during the war, as Draco's Veela inheritance had fundamentally altered his magical core. After clearing the routine wand inspection he continued to the Being Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures on Level 4.
Though he was technically an Auror, both the DMLE and the DRCMC had joint supervision over him and his partner. Draco suspected the inevitable power struggle would lead to a lot of future headaches. Draco, as the token Magical Being, unofficially fell more under the purview of the DRCMC, while his partner would no doubt fall under the DMLE. Draco didn't particularly care about the reporting structure at this point, and anything that would ensure that Draco didn't have to walk alone into the Auror Department for the first time since he'd been led through it bound up in an Incarcerous was A-OK in his book.
He was greeted at the door by a cheerful, curvy witch who looked as if she'd only just left Hogwarts. Certainly the enthusiasm in her greeting indicated she hadn't worked in government long and wasn't all that familiar with Draco's past actions.
"You must be Draco Malfoy! Welcome to the Being Division. I can't tell you how thrilled we all were when Julep told us you'd agreed to take on this role in our pilot programme. The department has been working on this plan for ages, and we were really starting to lose all hope of it ever getting off the ground. And then you appeared, just like an angel from heaven!"
Draco raised a single brow, unsure if he should be amused or insulted by the angel comment. She flushed.
"Oh, I am so sorry, I wasn't even thinking about how that would sound! You must get that all the time, being a Veela."
Draco flashed her a tight smile. "Once or twice." Her expression twisted with guilt, but he waved her off before she could start apologising more profusely. "I believe I'm supposed to be meeting with Julep now"—Draco looked down at the nameplate on the front desk—"Miriam?"
She beamed at him. "Yes, yes you are! She's been so looking forward to meeting you properly. You can go straight in." She gestured to a closed door behind her and to the left. "Your future partner and Head Auror Robards are already there."
The nerves that had somewhat managed to settle came back full force as he gave Miriam a shaky smile. He'd not expected to be confronted with his new partner so soon. He'd thought he'd have more time to prepare. Then again, prepare for what? There was no way to prepare for meeting with a stranger that in all likelihood, hated Draco already, a stranger that would probably, at some point, hold Draco's life in his hands, given the work they were to do together.
There was nothing for it but to soldier on. Draco could do this. He'd certainly had to overcome harder things in his lifetime. Nothing in that room could be worse than living with Voldemort, the world's most accomplished Legilimens, while trying to keep the fact that he was a Veela a secret.
Squaring his shoulders, he walked up to the door and gave it a firm rap, opening it confidently when a woman's voice called out, "Come in!"
Draco walked into the room and stopped dead in his tracks when he locked eyes with his new partner, who was looking every bit as shocked as Draco.
Apparently nobody had told Harry Bloody Potter who his new partner was, either.