“I’m sorry, Harry, I know this is a disappointment,” Shacklebolt said, when old Jeremiah Arkendale was appointed Interim Minister for Magical Enforcement. “But you’ve only had one year as Chief Auror. It’s not entirely unreasonable for the Wizengamot to want you to have a little more seasoning before you assume the post.”
“Kingsley, it’s just more of the same nonsense and you know it,” Harry said. “Last year it was the ‘scandal’ of excessive department spending, because my unit needed to buy more protective gear and containment units to handle the cartloads of Dark artifacts we’ve been digging up. The year before that, it was accusations of favoritism, because I’ve brought on former members of Dumbledore’s Army without making them do tests to show me they can do the spells I taught them. And before that—”
But there wasn’t any help for it. The Wizengamot still had too many stodgy old wizards, the sort who hadn’t approved of Voldemort mostly because he made too much fuss and bother. Whenever the Slytherin faction could talk them round to their side, Shacklebolt couldn’t push a vote through.
“And they all keep falling for it,” Harry said furiously, throwing his cloak at the hook and catching Hugo as the three-year-old came sailing straight off the banister at him with a squeal of glee. He carried him into the dining room: dishes were already gliding over from the dumbwaiter and arranging themselves on the table while the crockery hopped out of the cupboard.
“Harry, you must be fair, it sounds reasonable enough to say one year as Chief Auror doesn’t entirely prepare you for a Ministerial position,” Hermione said, depositing Rose in her high chair.
“It’s mad, though, Hermione!” Ron said, taking Hugo from Harry and wrangling on his bib. “Arkendale's a relic. He can barely totter into the office in the mornings, he’s been doing nothing but light paperwork for the last three decades. It’s just an accident he’s never retired.”
“Well, then he sounds perfect,” Hermione said, practically. “He’s a placeholder. He’ll hang about for a few months, and then he’ll retire, and at that point, Harry will have had more seasoning, and there won’t be anyone left the Slytherins can latch on to. And in the meantime, I’m sure he won’t interfere with your work much at all.”
Arkendale clung to office for fourteen months, during which he forgot meetings, lost half of Harry’s warrant applications and equipment requests, delayed the other half, never came in until ten, went right back out for three-hour lunches—occasionally with suspects in active investigations—and called him Harold in a quavery avuncular tone whenever Harry did manage to corner him in the office.
It was maddening: it had already taken Harry eight long years of clawing his way up the ranks of the Auror Division to finally get into position to do anything systematic. Even as Chief Auror it felt like all he could do was put sticking plasters over gaping wounds, what with half the old pureblood families hiding Dark artifacts under the bed and a solid voting bloc of them in the Wizengamot fighting tooth and nail to hold on to all their old privileges. They weren’t all Slytherins, but almost: the kind of people who’d run away from Hogwarts when Voldemort was at the door, even if they hadn’t been on the other side with him, and Millicent Bulstrode of all people had inherited her dad’s old seat and was leading the obstructionist brigade.
Harry nearly started a real fight half a dozen times, but Hermione talked him down, over and over. “You’re never going to be appointed if you give Arkendale an excuse to dismiss you!” she’d said. “You just need to be patient, he can’t hold out forever,” although as the months rolled on it began to feel as though possibly he could, until one day Harry came into the office and found a gleeful if faintly embarrassed Hannah Abbott waiting for him, saying, “He got taken to St. Mungo’s last night with chest pains!” and three days later, Shacklebolt finally had Arkendale’s letter of resignation.
“Now, finally,” Harry said, feeling almost savage about it, and a week later he walked into the confirmation hearings and fixed his eyes hard on Bulstrode and her crew while he answered all the questions they threw at him, and didn’t answer with so much as a blink any of the vicious insinuations—such an odd living arrangement, his sharing a roof with his married best friends, was there anything unstable about his home life, like Grimmauld Place didn’t have seven bedrooms and three bathrooms and would’ve been ghastly to rattle around in alone.
Ginny lost her own temper after that session and offered furiously to marry him after all, just to shut them up. “No,” he said. “You were right the first time round, Ginny, and I’m not giving them a single thing they want out of me, not one.”
The next day the Daily Prophet ran an article about the hearings with a photograph of him on the front page, staring out hard-faced and angry, but more importantly a chart of the Wizengamot with more than half the seats lit up in red, only a few along the edge flickering, that said Chief Auror Potter is presently expected to be confirmed as Minister by a secure margin.
Bulstrode’s gang dug up half a dozen more stupid and petty excuses to delay the confirmation vote—one of the key members of the Magical Enforcement committee was ill for a week with dragon pox, and then mysteriously a Vermicious Stinkbug got into the main chamber of the Wizengamot and the place needed another week for fumigation, and then out of nowhere one of the oldest members stood up and announced he was retiring and moving to France, and gave a rambling and incoherent farewell speech that lasted three solid days, since not enough people were willing to shout him down to move business along.
Finally his voice gave out, and Harry thought that was it at last, but that evening there was a mysteriously unexplained malfunction on the Hogwarts Express—it was just two days before Hogwarts term finished for the year—and Bulstrode managed to get the entire Wizengamot to take a week’s recess so members could go and pick up their children in person.
But the first day back, Shacklebolt stood up the instant the horn had been blown and called for an immediate vote, and one after another the pebbles rolled down the channels into the counting boxes, white and black accumulating, until finally the last one needed dropped in and the glowing letters flamed across the bottom of Harry’s letter of appointment: Confirmed by the Wizengamot this Seventh Day of June in the Year 2008.
Harry waited until all the pebbles had been dropped before he stood up, the letter clenched in his fist and fierce satisfaction swelling in his chest. “I thank the Wizengamot for its confidence, and wish to assure you that I will carry out my duties to the utmost,” he said, which was all the speech he could trust himself to give, and Shacklebolt was stepping forward smiling with the Tome of Merlin, to take his oath, when Zacharias Smith stood up from the Archivist’s Seat and called out, “Point of order!”
“Seconded, seconded,” a dozen people called from the Slytherin side, and Harry gritted his teeth as Shacklebolt turned and said, flatly, “Yes, Archivist?”
“Minister, the oath cannot be administered to the candidate,” Smith said in the most pompous way imaginable. “The requirements for the post have not been met.”
“Chief Auror Potter has been confirmed by the Wizengamot! There are no other requirements!” Arthur Weasley shouted, from the front rows, and there was a round of shouting on both sides that finally subsided as Smith held up his hand.
“Honorable wizards and witches of the Wizengamot, I regret to raise any difficulty at this late date, but the Act for the Avoidance of the Disorder Among the French, 1794, is perfectly clear upon this subject, to wit: Be it known that henceforth no wizard shall be appointed to the rank of Minister in these British Isles, save that he be a wizard of good character who hath secured through his seventh year the good opinion of his instructors at the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, which, I must point out, Chief Auror Potter has never managed to accomplish.”
It had the quality of one of those awful nightmares where you went running endlessly round your dormitory trying to find the homework that was due in Transfigurations, full of hideous knowledge that you were going to be late, only this was actually happening.
“I’m twenty-eight!” Harry said. “I’ve been an Auror for ten years! You want me to go back to Hogwarts now?”
“I don’t make the rules, Potter!” Zacharias said coldly.
“No, he just digs them out of moldy old tomes nobody else even knows exist and reminds everybody at the most opportune moment,” Harry said furiously at dinner that night.
“Well, of all the objections they might have raised, Harry, I must say, at least this one has some rational sense to it,” Hermione said.
“You can’t be serious, ’Mione!” Ron said.
“I’ve told both of you over and over, it would be a good idea to go back and take your N.E.W.T.s!” she said. “It’s not wasted effort at all. It hurts your magic if you’ve missed certain practical foundations.”
“I’ve managed this long!” Harry said.
“No, you haven’t! You’re excellent at combat magic, but your Charms come out unbalanced half the time,” Hermione said. “And don’t tell me it doesn’t matter! You got hurt in that duel last year because Karkaras was able to evade your Calming Charm—”
“Because you tried to use a Calming Charm instead of just blasting the rotten bugger,” Ron muttered.
Harry took the glass of wine that the table had put in front of him and threw back half of it in one swallow. “It’s not like I’ve got a choice, anyway.”
“Can’t the Wizengamot just toss the rule?” Ron asked.
“They could, but they won’t,” Harry said. “Bulstrode and her lot jumped right on it. Smith had barely sat down before they started in—a dozen speeches on not making special exceptions and changing the rules after the fact, and they’ve talked enough of the Wizengamot round.” He shoved a hand through his hair. “And here I was angry they’d wasted three weeks of my time.”
“You’ve got to do the whole year?” Ron said.
“Yeah,” Harry said grimly. “If the term was still going, McGonagall would’ve been able to let me just sit the exams and be done, but thanks to the other delays—”
Hermione put her hand on his arm. “It’s just one year, Harry.”
“One more year, after all the rest!” Harry said. “I’m done with this, ’Mione. It’s just more time for that lot to smuggle more of their Dark artifacts out of the country. Abbott caught another shipment at Portsmouth yesterday, did I tell you? Four crates full of 40-year-old Influencing Infusions disguised as wine. We’re reasonably sure they were from the Zabinis’ cellars—not that we can get the warrant we’d need to prove it,” he added bitterly. He’d been looking forward to signing that one this afternoon.
“The time will go before you know it,” Hermione said. “And school can’t help but be easier when you haven’t got Voldemort to worry about. I’m sure you won’t have any trouble with your lessons,” she added in a bright encouraging way, and Harry groaned and let his head fall back in frustration as he realized that to top it all off, he was going to have to study.
Harry meant to stay angry during the whole term, on principle, but he couldn’t help it: the moment he stepped out onto the Hogwarts platform and saw Hagrid looming over the crowd at the far end, older and greyer but still bellowing, “First-years over here! First-years, follow me,” his breath promptly swelled out to the limits of his ribcage. He stood watching the crowd of students flowing into their two separate rivers, and there were tears prickling in his eyes as he walked down the path to the carriages, the thestrals turning to whicker at him as he passed.
McGonagall met him inside the doors, the riot of other students already filling the Great Hall behind her. “Headmistress,” Harry said, helplessly grinning.
“Auror Potter,” she said, formally. “I wish you to know that although you have been forced to return as a student,” she sounded faintly disapproving, “the staff have voted to invite you to join us at the high table for meals, and to make you welcome in the staffroom.”
“Thanks, Headmistress,” Harry said. “It’s—good to be back.”
McGonagall let a tiny smile of her own break through. “The staff are gathering in the cloakroom behind the Great Hall,” she said. “Do leave your things. After dinner, Deputy Headmistress Sprout will take you up: we’ve put you in the guest rooms in the Charms Corridor.”
She swished away to go speak to the first-years. Harry was still smiling as he levitated his trunk down the side corridor and went into the cloakroom. It was full of professors he mostly didn’t recognize, talking animatedly about their holidays and hanging up cloaks and broomsticks, but a few weren’t strangers. “Hello, Harry,” Luna said, coming to kiss his cheek: she was teaching Divination. “It’s nice to see you again. Although I’m sure you wish you didn’t have to be here.”
“It’s all right,” he said, and he couldn’t help but feel it was, after all.
“Harry!” Professor Sprout came bustling up and took him by the shoulders, smiling, and kissed him on the cheek. “How lovely to see you. You’ve grown so—grown-up,” she said hastily, because nobody could say he’d got tall, Harry knew ruefully. “Let me introduce you.”
Old Marius Andorel was teaching Defense Against The Dark Arts; he’d been an instructor with the Auror Division for years and had retired only just after the war. They’d met a few times. “Looking forward to having you in the class, Potter,” he said with a wheeze. “Although fair warning, I may call upon you to give the lectures as often as not, ha ha!”
The Charms professor was Lydia Gracewell, who Harry vaguely remembered had been a seventh-year Hufflepuff, the year he’d come to Hogwarts. “Hermione says I’m to confess to you at once that my Charms are unbalanced, and save myself the mortification of having you find out in class,” Harry said.
“Are they really?” Gracewell said, laughing. “Well, we’ll sort you out, never fear. I’d be mortified if I couldn’t send out the next Minister for Magical Enforcement with anything less than an Outstanding.”
It was like—it was like getting to go back home, and instead of finding it shrunken and too-narrow, he’d found it larger than it had been, even warmer and more beautiful. He looked round the room smiling, able to feel again all the uncomplicated happiness he’d felt as a first-year, stumbling through wonders.
“Well, well, we’re all assembled, I see,” a drawling voice said, shockingly familiar, as though the worse bits of first year had decided to jump out and play, too. Harry whirled towards the door: Draco Malfoy was just inside, drawing off leather driving gloves and unslinging a long dark-silver cloak that wrapped the gloves up into a pocket and sailed itself onto the hooks.
“What are you doing here?” Harry said, staring.
Sprout cleared her throat. “Professor Malfoy is our new Potions instructor.”
Harry stood in appalled silence as the door to the Great Hall opened behind them. “To your seats, please,” McGonagall said, and the staff all began to funnel out.
“So you’ve had to come back, have you, Potter?” Malfoy said blandly, bringing up the rear. “We must hope you’ll be able to do satisfactory work without Granger to copy from. Millicent sends her best, by the way,” he added, sweeping past with a smirk. “She does hope you’ll enjoy your—extended stay.”
It became perfectly clear what Harry was up against the minute he set foot in the seventh-year Potions classroom. He’d never thought any lesson could possibly make him remember Snape’s teaching with charity, but at least Snape had never actively spelled away his ingredients while Harry was looking the other way, or hexed his knife, or tipped over his cauldron. “Better luck next class, Potter,” Draco said as the other students filed out. He was perched on the workbench poking through the smoking aftermath of Harry’s potion while Harry scrubbed the counter and mentally reminded himself that hexing a professor would get him expelled.
“You can’t keep this up forever, Malfoy,” Harry said through his teeth.
“Why, whatever do you mean?” Draco said, mockingly. “Bad form, trying to blame your failure on the instruction. I ought to take points or something.”
Harry finished and threw the filthy rag into the cleaning bucket. “What does Bulstrode even think she’s going to gain from all this?” he demanded. “You can’t stop me passing my N.E.W.T.s, no matter how annoying you are.”
Malfoy raised his eyebrows. “Why, look at that, someone didn’t understand the statute.”
“What?” Harry said warily.
“Really I should make you go and read it again yourself,” Malfoy said. “But in the interest of getting to see your face when you realize, I’ll just tell you: it’s nothing to do with the N.E.W.T.s. Those are merely department policy. The statute requires that you leave with the good opinion of your instructors, which, I assure you, includes that of the Potions master.”
Harry stared at him narrowly. “McGonagall can overrule you.”
Draco smiled and leaned over the table and wiped a streak up the inside of Harry’s blackened cauldron, rubbing the stinking residue between thumb and forefinger in front of his face. “Not if you haven’t managed to complete a single classroom assignment successfully she can’t,” he said softly, and blew the stinging dust into Harry’s face.
He slid down off the workbench and went out humming the Slytherin House song, going out of range at just the right moment to leave it stuck in Harry’s head the rest of the day.
“You’ll just have to use Protego to block his sabotage spells,” Hermione said, busily making notes: Harry had come straight back to his rooms and called her and Ron on the Floo. “I’ll spell you an Unjinxable Cauldron, and don’t use the class burners from now on, use a Calorium spell. Don’t worry too much, Harry—it’s just Malfoy. You know he’s only an irritating little snake.”
“Don’t be insulting to snakes, they’ve got a lot to bear,” Harry said sourly. “But can’t he just block me no matter what I do in class?”
“No,” Hermione said. “Or rather, he can put a black mark against you if he likes, which by the terms of the statute might disqualify you, but you can appeal it to the headmaster. I looked it up one year when I was worried Snape was going to mark me down. As long as you can demonstrate classroom competence, McGonagall will have cause not only to dismiss the black mark, but to throw Malfoy out entirely.”
“I don’t understand, why’s he even teaching in the first place?” Ron said. “Aren’t the Malfoys rolling in it? They got off scot-free after the war.”
“He only joined the staff this summer,” Harry said grimly. “He must have come on purpose, just to try to keep me here longer. What I can’t understand is why McGonagall hired him.”
Hermione grimaced. “I hear they’ve had a hard time finding heads of Slytherin House. A lot of former Slytherins have left the country since the war.”
Harry fell silent. The Slytherin tables were smaller too, he realized. A full pair of their long tables were empty at the end of the hall during meals.
“Good riddance, if you ask me,” Ron said. “Just soldier through it, Harry. Maybe after you finally get into office, Bulstrode and Malfoy will clear out, too. Wouldn’t that be nice.”
“Harry,” Hermione said thoughtfully, “it will also strengthen McGonagall’s hand if you can prove that Malfoy is deliberately harassing you.”
“D’you mean, ask the other students to testify?” Harry said.
“Well, they’re children—I was thinking more of the other professors,” Hermione said. “If they can attest that Malfoy’s out to get you personally, that supports your case that he’s given you a black mark for reasons aside from your work. Try and provoke him to be rude to you in the halls whenever there’s another professor around.”
“Malfoy’s not going to need any provocation for that,” Harry said.
He shut the Floo after talking to them, and got up and went down to the staffroom. It was on the ground floor this week, looking out onto the lake, where the Squid was having a lazy thrashing sort of swim on the surface in the sunset water. Draco was stretched out on the window seat with a book—he looked ridiculous, actually, billowy grey silk shirt and buttoned-down vest and trousers creased like they’d been pressed with industrial plates, a silver watch-chain running to his pocket and an emerald stick-pin, the portrait of some Edwardian aristocrat. Gracewell and Jasper Winchley, the Astronomy professor, were both sitting near by him in armchairs.
“Evening,” Harry said, and got a cup of tea and joined them.
“Hello, Harry,” Lydia said. “First day go all right? It must be odd to have to come back, after so much time.”
“It was all right,” Harry said. “I’d a mishap in Potions. I can’t imagine how it happened.”
“Never fear, Potter,” Draco said, wafting a hand languidly in his direction. “I’m sure you’ll get back into the hang of it eventually. My door is always open, if you need any remedial help.”
Harry reflected with great sorrow that it probably wouldn’t help his case if the other instructors testified that he’d knocked Malfoy’s block off in the staffroom. “Thanks,” he said through his teeth. “I might take you up on that.”
Malfoy kept on being saccharine-polite the whole night, even after Harry made a point of talking about the corruption in the Ministry and his plans for the overhaul of the prosecutorial code. “Rich purebloods have been getting away with murder for centuries,” Harry said. “And I mean that literally. There’s hundreds of cases on the books where someone flat-out killed a Muggle in the street, and claimed they were being threatened. For a long time, if you showed up in the prosecutor’s office with three character witnesses from ‘families of good standing,’ they’d just drop the charges and order the Aurors to clean up after it.”
“I suppose that in none of those cases the wizard in question was actually being threatened?” Malfoy said, without looking up from his book.
“If a Muggle’s threatening you, there’s usually better ways to handle it than hexing them to death,” Harry said. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Oh, it’s not for me to say, surely,” Draco said airily. “I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a Muggle in my life. I can’t consider myself qualified to judge those who have to encounter them regularly.”
“Hmph. I’m surprised they don’t wander onto your property,” Andorel said, grunting. “Half the cases in the department, in my day. Tourists running wild, poking into old wizarding ruins with their coomeras and small children, getting themselves into trouble. Big house like yours, see the place for miles, I would’ve thought you’d get National Trust sorts coming through three times a day at the weekends.”
“If they do, they certainly haven’t managed to obtrude on my attention,” Draco said. “The estate has very good wards against vermin, naturally.”
“I’m not sure this is going to work,” Harry told Hermione, after a few more lovely evenings in the staffroom full of similar conversations where Malfoy went to especial lengths to be as much like himself as he possibly could. “It’s just making me want to strangle him.”
“Just be patient and spend as much time around him as you can,” Hermione said. “I’m sure Malfoy won’t be able to resist being awful to you in public forever.”
“Yeah, great,” Harry said.
The next Potions lesson, Harry managed to deflect half a dozen minor jinxes, left his burner off, and kept a prudent hold on his cauldron whenever Malfoy walked past his workbench. “Doing better today, Potter?” Malfoy said brightly. “Glad to see it’s coming back to you.”
“Like flying on a broomstick,” Harry said, never taking his narrowed eyes off him for a moment.
Draco sailed onward, and Harry went to sprinkle in his shredded comfrey. He didn’t realize until it was leaving his grip that something about the texture was off, and it was too late: he’d just dumped two fingers of shredded guslorph roots into the mix instead. The potion thickened so quickly the cauldron rocked off its base and went rolling along the counter, the potion a solid steaming block inside. Harry had to spring forward and grab it with his bare hand before it hit his neighbor—Jane Gorfinkley, a Slytherin seventh-year—and he dropped it back on the base with a hiss of pain.
“Everything all right over here? Oh dear, that looks nasty.” Draco popped up instantly. Harry glared at him. Malfoy caught his wrist—managing to scrape painfully right against the worst blister as he did. “Whatever happened? This seems to be turning into a habit with you, Potter. We’d better set you right.” Then he took out his wand and murmured a quick Healing Charm over the palm, wiping all the evidence of injury clean, smiling viciously at Harry the whole time.
Next to him, Gorfinkley kept her head down studiously, not even looking over, and Harry eyed her station: there were faint greenish stains on her cutting-board, just like ichor of guslorph, and they hadn’t cut up anything else that color today.
In the next lesson, Harry double-checked every ingredient, threw every protection spell he could manage over his entire station and everything on it, and then at the end, just when he was sure he’d got round Malfoy this time, Gwendolyn Mathers-Goyle put a roasted frog on the counter in the row in front of him, and the thing suddenly leaped up and went sailing directly into his Simmering Slime.
Harry jerked round to see what had splashed, just in time for the whole thing to erupt into his face. Fortunately he’d put a Protego on himself, so the slime only ran off him harmlessly, but everyone around him had it caught in their hair and robes and there was a lot of screaming and distress for the next five minutes.
Harry finally managed to help the last student get Scourgified and set right, only to turn round and find Malfoy frowning at him, drawn up stiffly, the picture of stern disappointment. “All right, Mr. Potter,” he said, “I’m well aware of your feelings towards me—or should I say, towards ‘rich purebloods’? But I will not have my class constantly disrupted in this manner. These students have a right to earn their N.E.W.T., and I expect you to respect that, if nothing else.”
Harry gawked at him in indignation, speechlessly.
“Unless, of course,” Malfoy added, dripping with sarcasm, “I’m really to believe that the future Minister for Magical Enforcement is incapable of brewing a basic seventh-year potion without disaster. Class dismissed. We’ll be repeating this exercise on Wednesday.” He swept out of the room, leaving even the Gryffindor students shuffling around uncomfortably and eyeing Harry sidelong as they packed up their things.
“I’m going to murder him,” Harry said calmly. “I didn’t even murder Voldemort, but I’m going to murder him. No one could blame me.”
“Harry!” Hermione said, out of the fireplace.
“Now, now, Harry,” Hagrid said, creaking down into his chair with the teapot in his hand. He poured them both cups and pushed one over to Harry’s seat. “Have a cup of tea and calm down jus’ a sec.”
“He’s sabotaging my work and passing it off that I’m sabotaging his class!” Harry yelled.
“In other words,” Hermione said loudly, over him, “you’re playing exactly into his hands. Honestly! Just because you’ve gone back to Hogwarts is no excuse for behaving like a child again.”
Ron stuck his head through the Floo. “I’ll help you hide the body.”
Hermione shoved Ron out again behind her. “You’ve got to stop letting him make you dance to his tune, Harry! If you can just get your work done, he can’t do anything more than annoy you for a year. But if you actually did lose your head and knock him down, Bulstrode could summon him and any witnesses to testify before the Wizengamot that you aren’t a wizard of ‘good character,’ whatever that vague nonsense means, and then they’d have a chance to use the statute to block you entirely.”
Harry sank back into his chair in frustration, shoving his hands in his hair. “Bastard,” he muttered.
“Listen to me,” Hermione said. “You should go and find him in the staffroom again. Apologize—shut up and listen—you’re going to apologize for the disruption to the class and assure him, in front of the other professors, that it’s nothing personal and not at all deliberate. You’ve no idea why you’re having so much difficulty, and you wonder if he meant it that he’d give you extra help.”
“Then what?” Harry demanded. “He’ll say yes!”
“Then you’ll go to the extra help,” Hermione said. “This is all about laying a trail of evidence, Harry. You need to make it impossible for Malfoy to justify a black mark—”
“If I have to spend more time with him, he won’t have to justify anything!” Harry said. “He’ll be strangled, and I’ll be in Azkaban. And I won’t even be able to prove he drove me to it.”
“Y’know, maybe I kin help with that,” Hagrid said thoughtfully. “Jus’ a sec, I know I’ve got a few of them round here somewhere.” He pushed himself up again and went rummaging around the cottage.
“I really don’t understand how you’re both fully grown men and you’re still acting like first-years in a grudge match,” Hermione was saying, with Ron’s voice faintly drifting in, “It’s Malfoy, Hermione!” from the back, when Hagrid came back with a small box with holes in the lid.
“What is that?” Harry said.
“Marvelous Earwig,” Hagrid said, sitting back down with a grunt, breathing heavily. He’d got older more quickly than Harry had even realized. Hagrid lifted the lid on the box and Harry jerked back a little as the giant two-inch earwig nearly jumped out: Hagrid caught it expertly on a pinky and tipped it back inside, putting the lid back on. “You take li’l Wiggy here with you to your extra sessions. It’s jus’ you n’ Malfoy, so he won’t think to watch what he says. After he incriminates himsel’, you just bring Wiggy back to me. We give him a nice bit of bacon and he’ll repeat the whole thin’ back, for me and anybody else listenin’.”
“Hagrid, you’re a genius,” Harry said, taking the box.
Malfoy received Harry’s speech frowningly. “Of course, I’d be delighted,” was all he said, though, since Lydia and Sprout were both in the staffroom at the time. “Shall we start tonight?”
“Why not?” Harry said brightly, and followed Draco back to the Potions classroom. “You know, Malfoy, there’s a limit to how many ways you can sabotage my potions.”
But Malfoy just eyed him suspiciously and said, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, Potter. And if that’s your attitude, I’m afraid you’ll have quite a difficult time over the rest of this term. Now, why don’t we begin with a refresher in ingredient preparation? You can start by squeezing these bubotubers for me.”
Poor Wiggy kept riding in Harry’s pocket, baconless, for the next two months, during which Malfoy and his little coterie of Slytherin students managed to sabotage more than half of Harry’s potions, and incidentally arranged a few other bits of entertainment for him like slipping Finger-Biting jinxes into his books and painting a stripe of Slickening Glaze on the floor of the corridor just outside his rooms.
They were all careful as could be about it. The one time Harry managed to catch one of them in the act, with a Finger Grabber left on his own doorknob, it was a seventh-year boy who immediately produced a copy of Harry’s essay on fighting vampires for Defense Against The Dark Arts class, and confessed he’d just wanted to “see what a real Auror would’ve done,” hanging his head earnestly.
Draco swept into the corridor before Harry could call McGonagall in, alerted somehow. “Well, you can’t really blame him for being curious, can you,” he said. “But of course it’s unacceptable behavior. Fifty points from Slytherin, Alcestis, and detention with me for a month. Finite Incantatem!”
He whacked the doorknob with his wand, setting the boy’s fingers loose, and Harry was distracted enough by Draco having taken fifty points from Slytherin—really, any points from Slytherin—that by the time he’d stopped gawking, Alcestis had taken to his heels and vanished away round the corner. But at dinner that night, Harry realized the fifty points didn’t matter: Slytherin had already been dead last in the House Cup standings, a hundred points down from Hufflepuff in third. The Slytherin kids clearly weren’t even bothering to try—none of them ever raised their hands in any class Harry had with them; they sat together and whispered among themselves and walked through the halls in a pack. Draco was the only professor any of them ever spoke to willingly.
He clearly had no qualms about recruiting students to help with his campaign of harassment. There were six Slytherin students in the advanced Potions class, and it was hard to keep an eye on all of them during an entire classroom session. Harry wasn’t even sure which one of them slipped the feldspar into his Whistling Remedy, which bubbled over onto the floor as a stinking-sweet glaze and managed to immediately attract a hundred Shrieking Salamanders up from the sewers. Draco stood over Harry and lectured him loudly on proper safety protocols the entire time as Harry grimly herded the Salamanders back into the classroom drain and scrubbed the floor by hand.
Wiggy got his bacon after that, as Harry played back the lecture for Hermione and Ron and Luna from Hagrid’s cottage. “Harry, no one could blame you,” Ron said, his face almost awed with horror. Even Hermione was biting her lip in dismay.
“I think it’s cute, actually,” Luna said, sipping her tea. They all stared at her. She blinked back. “He’s still got such a crush on you after all this time.”
Nobody said anything for a long moment.
“Um,” Harry said. “What?”
“Well, it’s really obvious, isn’t it, when you look back,” Luna said. “He never believed any of it. Voldemort, I mean. He just wanted to make you notice him. He was so unhappy when he really had to join the Death Eaters.”
They all sat in total silence for another ten minutes as years of nonstop tormenting and harassment marched through all their heads, suddenly turned upside down. Ron finally said, blankly, “He’s mental.”
“I think he’s not very good at handling it, when he can’t have something he wants,” Luna said.
“Oh, he’s going to get what he wants,” Harry said, in dawning fierce intensity. “He’s going to get it right up the—”
Harry was still doing the sessions of remedial Potions work, which mostly consisted of Draco giving him loads of annoying tasks while he sat at the front of the classroom and stretched out his long legs and put them up. Draco’s constant posing around him suddenly took on a whole new light, actually. Harry had figured it was just habit.
That night Draco gave him an entire counter full of dirty cauldrons to scrub. Harry waited until Draco was ensconced at the front of the room with his view, and then deliberately peeled his robes off over his head. “What are you doing?” Draco said.
“I’d rather not get them splashed, Malfoy,” Harry said. “You don’t mind, do you?” He tossed them aside. He’d worn a plain t-shirt underneath, one he’d shrunk a couple of sizes, and black jeans: he’d been told more than once his arms were his best feature, thanks to ten years of combat casting and regular exercise. He washed the cauldrons, not even trying to keep from getting wet himself, and felt a savage kind of glee when Malfoy kept darting looks at him, almost like he couldn’t help himself.
Harry waited until Draco was pretending to read his book again before he finished the last one, then deliberately went up the classroom floor to him. “Anything else you’d like me to do, Professor?” he said, standing over Draco with his shirt soaked and transparent, drying off his hands. “Anything at all?” He made it sound as insinuating as he possibly could.
“No, that should be all for tonight, Potter,” Draco said—warily, but he couldn’t help another quick once-over of Harry’s chest.
“Going into Hogsmeade this weekend?” Harry said, pressing the advantage.
“If I’ve the time,” Draco said, even more warily.
“Perhaps I’ll see you at Three Broomsticks,” Harry said, and deliberately looked Draco over, a long lingering sweep up and down his body. “If you’re there.”
He turned and walked out, whisking his robes up into his arm.
“I really don’t understand, what exactly is the idea here?” Hermione said. “You want to drive Draco Malfoy mad with lust and you think that’s going to make him stop harassing you? Apparently it hasn’t before now!”
“No, but if he harasses me properly, on record, I’m fairly sure I can get McGonagall to kick him out,” Harry said. “I am a student, after all.”
He was dressing to go into Hogsmeade, with care: nothing too elaborate, because he couldn’t possibly compete with Draco himself on those grounds, but he put on a green shirt that matched his eyes, and his best robes over it. “How’s this?”
“Very dashing,” Hermione said, folding her arms disapprovingly. “You look exactly like you’re going out on a date. I’m starting to think Draco’s not the only one with a lingering schoolboy crush.”
“That’s not funny!” Harry said, while Ron’s gagging noises were audible even on the other side of the Floo.
Hogsmeade was full of students, and Three Broomsticks noisy and crowded, but Draco had come, sitting at a back table with a few of the other professors, drinking red wine in a cut-crystal glass. You couldn’t say he’d dressed up, because he was always dressed up, but he was wearing a particularly sharp set of robes, black and silver buttoned all the way up to his collar, sleeves tied on over a pouf of silver-grey shirt coming out at the shoulder, with silver buttons running along the arms to his wrists. He had his wrist stretched out resting on the top of the empty chair next to him, and Harry deliberately went over and took it, sliding into the curve of his arm.
“Hullo, everyone,” he said. “Butterbeer for me, thanks.”
Draco stiffened, but he didn’t move his arm, either. Harry made a point of leaning back in the seat and keeping his eyes on Draco while they all chatted together, and was rewarded with Madame Hooch and Lydia both eyeing them and trading glances. The room thinned out as the day wore on and the students left, until it was just a handful of them remaining, and finally Draco stood up and swung his cloak back on. “I’m for the castle.”
“I’ll go with you,” Harry said, getting up. He strolled back through the Forest with his hands in his pockets, pleasantly conscious of Draco holding himself rigid and cautious at his side. “Nice night,” he said blandly.
“What are you doing?” Draco said. The words sounded like they’d had to fight their way out past his teeth.
“What does it seem like I’m doing?” Harry said.
Draco maintained a stiff silence back to the castle. Harry walked him all the way back to his rooms in the main corridor down to the dungeons, Draco shooting sidelong looks at him every step. “Relax, Draco,” Harry said. “I’m not going to bite or anything.” He leaned against the door frame as Draco unlocked his room. “Going to ask me in?”
Draco paused, his hand on the knob. “You can’t be serious about this,” he grated out, sounding like he was on the edge of snapping.
“I can’t, can’t I?” Harry said.
Draco stood there another moment, rigid, then he swept the door open and held it for Harry. “After you, then,” and Harry hadn’t actually expected him to cave that quickly, but Wiggy was in his pocket and he wasn’t going to pass up the chance. He went inside. Draco’s room was untidy in a studied way: the only things left out were all elaborate and decorative. Leatherbound books and cufflinks scattered over the desk with racks of colored glass vials, and a silk scarf tossed over the arm of the long green-velvet sofa.
The door closed behind him. Harry turned round to say I never guessed you wanted it that badly, Malfoy, but he didn’t have a chance, because Draco took hold of his head, hand sliding round the back to grip his neck, fingers still cool from the night air, and kissed him almost savagely.
Harry flailed a moment, no idea what to do or where to put his hands—he grabbed for Malfoy’s shoulders, taking a step back at the same time, but Malfoy came with him, pressing him back into the room, still kissing him, and Harry didn’t have an enormous range of experience with kisses but this one was going on a long time, and he was about to push Malfoy off, but then Malfoy shoved him, instead. Harry staggered back, gasping.
“If I’d known you’d give it up for a mark, Potter, I’d have arranged this sooner than now,” Draco said, jerking his robes open at the throat.
Harry gawked at him—what?—and then Draco shoved him down onto the couch.
Harry had no idea which to say of wait a second that’s not and I didn’t mean I actually wanted and I only wanted to get you on record saying which all sounded wrong and anyway the main point was he wasn’t actually going to have sex with Draco, who had just slung off his robes and—and—gone to his knees, shoving Harry’s legs apart, and Harry stared down at him in absolute—horror, it was definitely—
“I’m going to destroy you,” Draco said, and opened Harry’s trousers.
“Oh,” Harry said, strangled. A moment later he let his head fall back, so at least he didn’t have to watch Draco— “Oh. Oh, God.”
Draco drew off to breathe. “Turning to prayer already?” he purred. “Save something for when we get to the bed.”
Harry craned his head up, feeling wild-eyed, and stared at the bed—the enormous, lavishly draped bed, all gold tassels and velvet hangings and pillows, the kind of bed you could get lost in, for hours maybe, while Draco Malfoy—
—went back down on you, and Harry shut his eyes and tried to convince himself he wasn’t here, really, this was just a very disturbing dream someone else was having, and then Draco drew off again, the filthy rotter, and said, “Don’t just sit there, Potter, I don’t mind hair-pulling,” oh the bastard, and Harry dug his hands into the silver-blond hair and fisted two handfuls of it and let his hips jerk under Draco’s grip towards his mouth.
Draco made a pleased noise around him, and Harry gasped helplessly, and yeah, there went his last hope of not having sex with Draco Malfoy tonight, even on a technicality. Draco stood up over him, wiping his mouth—oh God—his flushed, red mouth, breathing hard, his eyes heavy-lidded. “Don’t imagine I’m finished with you,” he said, and whipped his wand in a line down Harry’s front, buttons flying open and the shirt folding itself right off him.
Harry stared down at his own bare chest a little blankly, and then Draco reached up and caught him by the belt and hauled him up standing into his arms—his silk shirt sliding deliciously against Harry’s chest, Draco’s hand gripping at the base of his skull, Draco’s mouth hot and demanding on his, and oddly Harry seemed to have gone and buried his own hands back into Draco’s hair again.
Harry’s belt was undoing itself and his trousers were sliding down his legs and his shoes were unlacing themselves, and Draco was maneuvering him over to the bed, shoving him backwards onto it. Draco stripped the rest of the way, lean and pale, and then he climbed inside, after Harry, and the drapes were falling shut all around them, the red glow of candlelight dimming, and Harry swallowed hard and realized it was now or never, he had to stop and get out this instant or Draco was going to—
“Well, Potter?” Draco said softly. “Last chance. Backing out now?”
“Get on with it already, Malfoy,” Harry whispered, shaking, and lay back in the bed, already panting even before Draco’s hands slid onto his thighs.
It was nearly four in the morning when Harry finally crept back to his own quarters, having to make a desperate dash of it to avoid Mrs. Norris in the North Tower. “Just like old times, really,” he said out loud to himself, in the safety of his room. “Sneaking around the castle, getting into trouble with my Potions professor,” and he had to sit down with a fit of helpless giggling that was probably a bad sign of something or other.
He finally managed to calm himself down again. He reached into his pocket and dug out the earwig box. He lifted off the lid. “Sorry, Wiggy,” he said apologetically, and tipped the earwig down onto the ground and stepped on it.
Morning came much too quickly, along with a cotton mouth and aches and pains in really inconvenient places. Harry looked himself over in the mirror anxiously and ran a few quick Healing Charms on the couple of love bites on his chin and neck. “Any more of those in the back?” he asked the mirror, turning round.
“No, dear, you’re all betters,” the mirror said. “My, someone had a nice time last night, didn’t they.”
“Yeah,” Harry said morosely. “I really did.”
It wasn’t that he’d been in denial or anything, he’d got to grips with being gay within a year of Hogwarts, and he’d even gone on the occasional date since then, but who had time, and anyway he didn’t really want to go to bed with people he didn’t already know. And love, he would’ve said, but last night threw that idea out the window. Apparently he was perfectly happy shagging the unredeemed arsehole who was conspiring to block his appointment to the Ministry. Of course, on the bright side, the unredeemed arsehole was perfectly willing to stop blocking his appointment in exchange for being shagged, so that looked like it was going to all work out nicely for him.
Harry thumped his head against the wall once gently and went to breakfast. Draco was already there, plate piled high—to be fair, he’d done quite a lot of physical labor the previous night—and Harry had come late enough that there was only the one seat left open, next to him. Harry gingerly took the chair and poured a cup of tea, and then dared to slant a look Draco’s way, only to catch him sneaking a look back, and Harry looked at his mouth and remembered—and they both jerked their eyes right back to their plates and started eating again hurriedly.
Draco left him completely alone in Potions that day, but Harry managed to mismeasure three ingredients and knocked over his own cauldron anyway after Draco walked by and Harry saw the faint imprint of his own finger peeking just over the top edge of Draco’s robe collar. “Potter, you’re a disaster,” Draco said, standing over him after everyone had gone and Harry was cleaning up the mess, again. “Not even a single jinx. I needn’t have bothered sabotaging you in the first place.”
“Yeah, but if you hadn’t,” Harry started to fire back, before he swallowed the rest of it, and then Draco was catching his head under the chin and kissing him in the middle of the classroom, and then he waved his wand at the door and slammed it shut and shoved Harry forward over the table.
“No, yes, all right, yes, yes,” Harry said, as Draco flipped up his robes up around his waist, jerked down his trousers, and put it to him. He did it really smoothly, in one go, top marks for speed and everything, pushing Harry’s breath explosively out of him. It felt like his entire spine had liquefied.
“This is really not how I pictured my seventh year going,” Harry said, mostly to himself, as he shuddered underneath Draco’s thrusts.
“I used to imagine giving it to you in here all the time,” Draco said breathlessly. “Snape giving us detention, the right sort of potion, pinning you to the counter…” He had Harry’s wrists on the table and was holding them down while his hips beat out a steady glorious rhythm against his body. Harry groaned desperately. “I never thought of myself as the professor and you the hapless student, desperate to get good marks, but clearly I should have.”
“Clearly,” Harry gasped out, and came in a rush.
“So the important thing is, I’m not going to fail Potions,” Harry said.
“I’m going to murder Draco Malfoy,” Hermione said instantly.
“What?” Harry said feebly.
“Did he blackmail you into sleeping with him so he’d pass you?” Hermione demanded.
“Um,” Harry said. “Not… exactly.” She folded her arms. “I—I think I may have propositioned him into sleeping with me so he’d pass me. Sort of. Look, I didn’t mean to, he just—got the wrong idea, and—”
“And kept having it all the way to the end?” Hermione said. “Which you reached despite being at least a hundred times the combat wizard Draco Malfoy is because…?”
“Er,” Harry said. His face felt hideously hot.
Hermione’s expression went almost cartoonishly dismayed. “Oh, Harry, no.” There was a bang of a door closing somewhere behind her and a murmur of Ron asking a question. “He’s sleeping with Draco Malfoy!” she said over her shoulder.
The rest of that conversation went about as well as anyone might have expected, Harry felt, as he shut down the Floo to escape to dinner.
Of course, Draco was at dinner, and afterwards he looked at Harry, and Harry looked back at him, and the end of that was they went back to his room. Harry tried to decide along the way if he had to tell Draco he wasn’t sleeping with him for a mark. Except if he wasn’t, that would leave the question of why he was sleeping with Draco, and Harry didn’t really want to think about that question, much less answer it.
Draco shut the door behind him, and Harry turned on like clockwork: it was already Pavlovian. Draco was on him, kissing him, already pushing his robes open. “I’m—I’m getting a bit sore,” Harry said, between kisses.
“Well, that’s no good,” Malfoy said, slow and drawling, and sucked on his earlobe while he pulled Harry’s shirt out of his trousers. “I want you very sore,” he hissed into Harry’s ear. “I want you limping. I want to take you so thoroughly everyone’s going to know you’re bending over for me.”
Harry shut his mouth up tight. He was so hard it ached. He reached down and unbuckled his own belt and shoved his trousers down.
Draco was as good as his word. Harry spent five straight hours being thoroughly fucked in a multitude of positions. By the end of it, he felt hot and sore and tender and so utterly limp he didn’t think he could’ve walked at all. “I’m sleeping here,” Harry said muffled, without lifting his head out of the pillow.
Draco, collapsed over onto his back next to him, flipped an incoherent hand at him: fine, whatever.
In the morning, Harry groggily got up and did actually limp a little on his way to the bathroom. He was going to put on a Healing Charm and take care of it, but he stood over the sink staring at himself with his wand in his hand, frozen, because he wanted—he wanted Draco to see it, to see him limping, with the very clear understanding that when Draco saw it, he’d fuck him again instantly, wildly, and Harry almost couldn’t breathe for the wave of lust that rolled over him.
So he went back out after he was done washing up, before doing anything, and Draco’s eyes were open, and he did see, and not a minute later Harry was sprawled across the bed with his legs over Draco’s shoulders, getting it again, a feverish kind of blurring of pleasure and pain. “Oh, God, ow,” Harry moaned, his hips jerking involuntarily. “Ow. Come on, Draco, harder.”
“Oh, God,” Draco said, a kind of desperate whine in his voice, too, and somehow did manage to go at him even harder, until Harry just went over on the knife’s edge, and then Draco pulled out and came all over him. Harry’s legs thumped off Draco’s shoulders heavily. He lay breathing in gulps, limp. Draco pushed him over onto his stomach. Harry meant to say no, that’s enough, I’m done, but Draco didn’t try to fuck him. Draco put his head down and licked him, and fingered him, and pushed into him with his tongue, and then tongue and fingers together, and it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t enough.
“Tell me to,” Draco said low and savagely, sliding his thumbs up and down Harry’s thighs. “Tell me.”
“Put it in me again,” Harry said, faintly, and shut his eyes and braced himself, only Draco didn’t slam into him this time, just pushed slowly and luxuriously back into him and—and—stayed there, pushed deep, Harry’s whole sore body swollen tight around him and his thighs pushed apart, and Harry hadn’t known you could get this fucked, this completely fucked, until he’d spent five solid minutes just shuddering on Draco Malfoy’s cock.
Harry did put on a Healing Charm afterwards, but he still felt shivery and—and—taken, there wasn’t another word for it. Draco came into the shower with him and slid his hands all over Harry’s body, proprietary and demanding. “Tonight I’m going to teach you to suck my cock the way I like it,” Draco said.
Harry choked down a laugh. “Yes, Professor,” he said, and after one silent moment where Draco stared at him shocked, they both burst into half-hysterical laughter together, until they started kissing under the spray.
Harry stopped failing Potions. Unfortunately he started failing everything else, because he was having as much sex with Draco as humanly possible, and it wasn’t leaving him much of either time or brainpower. “I shouldn’t have told you, should I,” Luna said to him after lunch one day. “I’m sorry, Harry.”
“About Draco,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was you, too.”
“What? No, we, I—” Harry said, and then just fled. He still maintained the desperate hope that no one else knew, right up until the day McGonagall cornered them after dinner and said severely, “Professor Malfoy, Auror Potter, I would not have thought I needed to remind two grown wizards that the corridors of Hogwarts are not an appropriate place for snogging—”
“You don’t,” Harry moaned, in horror. He hadn’t meant to, really, they’d just bumped into each other that day by accident. Next to him, Draco was rigid and flushed with mortification.
“—but as it seems I do,” she went on, with a militant look in her eye, “I will thank you both to restrict your extracurricular relations to your rooms. And I think, Professor, perhaps we had best recuse you from marking Auror Potter’s work henceforth,” she added, tartly.
They both stood frozen, staring after her as she sailed away, taking all their excuses with her. “That witch has had it in for me since I was eleven years old,” Draco said bitterly. “Fine. Are you coming or not?”
“Yeah, all right,” Harry said hopelessly, accepting his doom.
He spent the holidays with Ron and Hermione trying really hard to convince himself that he wasn’t missing Draco, and failing. Hermione was determined to save him, so she set him up on half a dozen blind dates and refused to take no for an answer. “I blame myself, letting you get away with it this long,” she said. “If you hadn’t been brutally deprived, he couldn’t have seduced you in the first place.”
“I’m fairly sure I seduced him,” Harry said, but that didn’t get him out of it. He went on one date after another to restaurants and clubs, tried to make conversation, danced a bit, and even got kissed a few times. It was no use. He was about as interested as if he’d gone out with a mannequin. They were all—nice. He couldn’t imagine any of them shoving him up against—
He jerked his head up from the drink he was nursing at the bar, waiting for the next date to show up, and stared at Draco, who had two drinks in his hands. “What are you doing here?” Harry blurted.
Draco looked over at a table in the back, a slim, good-looking wizard waiting, and then he looked back and said flatly, “You.”
He turned just as Harry’s date showed up, and shoved both the glasses into the guy’s hands. “His name’s Roger, he gives magnificent head,” he said to the startled wizard, jerking his head towards the wizard at the table, and then he turned round, grabbed Harry by the wrist, and towed him away up the stairs into a dark corner where he did, in fact, shove Harry up against the wall, jerked his robes out of the way, and bit him on the back of the neck while he fucked him.
“Yes, please,” Harry groaned, and afterwards they staggered off and found a dark quiet table and spent the rest of the night just necking until the place closed, and then they went to a hotel room and had sex again.
“Hermione’s going to kill me,” Harry said glumly the next morning.
“Millicent is going to kill me,” Draco said. “And she’s actually got assassins.”
“Was that the next step?” Harry said fatalistically. “I’ve almost been expecting it.”
Draco sat up abruptly and ran a hand through his hair. There was something odd in his expression, his mouth turning down and almost trembling, and Harry stared at him. Draco didn’t say anything for a moment, and then abruptly he spat, some real misery cracking out of him, “Go to hell. Do you really blame us for trying? It’s that or just give up and go, isn’t it? My family’s been here for a thousand years, but I ought to just accept it gracefully and move on, of course.”
Harry pushed himself up on an elbow. “What are you talking about, Malfoy? Nobody’s chasing you.”
Draco laughed sharply. “Is that supposed to be a joke? And what do you call this ten-year crusade you’ve been running to purge every pureblood house in the country—no excuse too small, no fine too large? Wizards banged into Azkaban on charges of possession of Dark artifacts, for having a knife on the wall someone used in the first Elizabeth’s reign, or a case of potions from the banned list that someone’s great-grandfather laid down in case of German invasion? The ban on black asphodel?”
“What on Earth—? That’s not—black asphodel smoke produces nausea and violent hallucinations if Muggles inhale it!” Harry said, bewildered—that had been Macmillan’s bill, hadn’t it? He only remembered because of the absolutely furious resistance Bulstrode’s crew had put up over it. “It’s not some plot to get you—”
Draco looked at him, incredulously. “Oh, of course not. There’s been a dozen recorded cases of inhalation in the last century, but naturally this desperate health crisis had to be addressed with the most aggressive measures at once. It’s nothing to do with the fact that half the old houses have Tartarean ovens from the seventeenth century, and it costs a hundred thousand Galleons to replace the works.”
Harry stared at him, and Draco gave a snort. “In case you’re keeping a tally, you got twelve families in a shot with that one. Including the Parkinsons. Gringotts wouldn’t give them a loan, of course—the goblins can see the writing on the wall as well as anyone. I offered to lend it to them personally, but Eddard wouldn’t take it. He said he couldn’t see any chance of paying it back, the way things were going, and if the inspectors afterwards found some excuse or other, he’d spend his declining years in a prison cell. So they shut up the house and moved to Germany—and so goes a family line that’s been here since the Dark Ages. And even then, your inquisitors stopped them at the port and went through every scrap of their luggage. Pansy wrote that her underthings were strewn across the pier by half a dozen smirking Aurors, as though her brassieres were likely contraband.”
He stopped talking, looking away, his jaw clenched tight and his hands clenched tighter in his lap. He shoved back the covers and got out of bed. His back was still scratched up red, shoulders marked with bruises where Harry had held on, drunk with it.
“You think—you really think we’re deliberately trying to drive you all out?” Harry said, almost blankly, staring after him. It was the sort of thing they would’ve done, of course—
Draco was pulling on his robes. “Well, Potter, if you’re not trying, it’s a remarkably successful campaign for being unintentional,” he said over his shoulder, without turning round, a cold sneer in the words. “And I suppose you just didn’t notice half the Slytherin tables standing empty? Seats opening up in the Wizengamot by the dozen? But of course, it wouldn’t stop you if you had. You’re just doing your job, aren’t you—clearing out all the vicious Dark wizards, a threat to all good little Gryffindors and friends. Poor old Arkendale held out against you as long as he could, but the mediwizards flat-out told him he’d be dead in another month if he didn’t retire, and his daughter’s already gone.”
It was like looking at the whole world through a twisted mirror. “If you really believe that,” Harry said, breathlessly angry suddenly, “if that’s what you really think I’m after, what are you doing here?”
Draco gave a short hard burst of laughter. After a moment he said, “When Millicent begged me to take the post at Hogwarts, stop you passing if I could, I told her there wasn’t a chance of it. McGonagall was never going to let me block you from the appointment. At best, we might have squeezed out an extra month or two of wrangling—a little more time for people to salvage what they could before the curtain comes down. But really, we both knew it was just a bit of petty vengeance. It is selfish of me to trade it for this, I suppose, but Millicent will have to forgive me. When I’m living in France this time next year, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of remembering you begging me for it.”
He walked into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him without ever looking back around.
Harry banged out of the hotel seething, and went for a walk down Diagon Alley to clear his head. Of all the—for Draco to turn around and treat him like a persecutor, like he was the one who’d ever been out to get other wizards—yeah, of course he’d wanted the Dark ones behind bars, the monstrous artifacts cleared out, like any sane person would. That wasn’t the same as being out to get all the Slytherins. Oh, the poor Parkinsons, having to replace the antiquated boiler in their country manor so it didn’t poison Muggle kids nearby when it backed up. And of course if they couldn’t afford to do it, their only other choice was to flee the country, instead of taking a smaller house and living like only ordinarily rich people.
He was so angry he was walking fast, barely looking where he was going, and it didn’t register at first that it was getting dark around him until it started to get cold, too, and he stopped and looked round in surprise. He’d come all the way down Diagon Alley to the end where the last streetlamp stood, and the cobblestones tapered off into the mists. It hadn’t felt like he’d walked nearly that long. He turned round and went back towards the lights and shops, still seething, but long before he reached the lights again, he started to notice he was passing shops on either side, shut up and gone dark, but not quite faded away yet. Glimmerglass Fine Jewelry. Wadlington’s Wizard Wear. Quaffing’s Rare Vintages, with a sign in the window saying all stock must go! 75% off all cases!
Harry slowed, staring in the windows as he went by. He’d never gone to any of these shops himself—he only vaguely remembered them. They were too posh for him, they were the sort of places—that people like Draco Malfoy went to shop.
There were dozens of closed ones, and when he finally reached the edge of the open shops, there were dozens more of those crowded against the border with frantic sale notices in the windows, scarcely any customers, and shopkeepers hovering by the doors. They looked at him as he walked past, silently; one woman, packing up a box of elegant china patterned with flying hummingbirds moving in a circle around the border, reached out and shut the door with a bitter, hard look.
By the time he got past those, he could already see Gringotts clearly looming up ahead, the Grand Hotel just behind it. There were some new shops sprung up also—Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes was bustling like mad, and Digit Alley had split off down beside it, full of wizarding tech shops and the new internet café and Modern Divining anchoring the other end, where another wall now led out to the Covent Garden tube stop. But Diagon Alley had shrunk. The busy stretch of shops was half as long as it had used to be.
Harry stopped in the intersection, the bustle of foot traffic moving round him—half the wizards weren’t wearing robes anymore; it was Muggle clothes and trainers—some of them in odd colors and slightly weird shapes, like even wizards who’d grown up that way had started wearing Muggle clothes for day-to-day.
He felt weird, almost sick to his stomach. He wanted to go back to the hotel and find Draco, shake him, yell at him—but that was probably the idea. Hermione had it right: Draco was trying to mess with him, he’d say anything he had to. And there wasn’t anything wrong with shops closing, new ones opening, people wearing different clothes—there wasn’t. There wasn’t anything wrong with any of it.
Harry abruptly shut his eyes and visualized. “Apparate!” he said, and the bang took him to Dewdrop Close, to the gate of a small cottage on the riverbank.
“Why, Harry,” Slughorn said, answering the door. He looked a bit older and greyer since the last time Harry had seen him, at his second retirement party some six years ago, but his eyes were still bright. “A pleasure to see you. Whatever brings you my way?”
“I need to speak to you, Professor,” Harry said. “About the Slytherins.”
Slughorn hesitated, biting his lip. He didn’t move out of the doorway at once. “Well, you know I’ve been retired again for years now, Harry. I don’t know what’s been happening in my old House.”
“I don’t mean at Hogwarts, not just at Hogwarts, at least,” Harry said. “I mean—about the Slytherins leaving Britain.”
Slughorn darted a look to either side, as though he was worried someone might be listening in. “Well, I suppose you’d better come in,” he said finally, and backed inside. Harry stepped into the entry and stopped: the sitting room was full of boxes, and half the shelves were empty.
“You’re going, too?” Harry said, barely able to choke the words out. He wheeled round. “Professor, you can’t think—you don’t believe we’re trying to run the Slytherins out! You certainly can’t think we’re after you.”
“Well, I, that is,” Slughorn said, and then he heaved a sigh. “Oh, Harry,” he said. “Come, sit down, I can still make us a cup of tea. I’m not leaving until the end of the week.”
But he was leaving. “It’s not that I’m personally vulnerable, of course,” he said. “Naturally I don’t have any Dark artifacts lying about—well, there are certain Potions ingredients that are—but I’m not concerned on that score, not in the least. If any of the more overzealous Aurors ever came round to pester me, I should have called you at once, of course. But no, my dear boy, in my case, it’s simply—the money, I’m afraid.”
“The money?” Harry said.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, in six months’ time, you’ll be taking office. And five hundred wizarding properties are going to come on the market at once, as the rest of the old lines leave.” Harry stared at him, and Slughorn shrugged helplessly. “It’s already next to impossible to give away a set of wizarding china, you know. I have to go now, when I can still sell my little house—it’s going to a nice young Muggle family, as it happens.” He sighed, his face sagging a bit, and looked suddenly much older. “Believe me, Harry, I don’t like the idea—moving to Spain, at my age! But—well. Half the shops I used to frequent have closed. The last of my favorite restaurants has announced it has four months left on its lease, and they can’t afford to renew. Many of my friends have already left.”
Harry swallowed. He couldn’t imagine Slughorn making all this up. Five hundred wizarding families leaving at once—another quarter of Diagon Alley was going to fall straight off into the dark. He thought of Hogwarts: a tiny handful of kids left sitting alone at the Slytherin table. No one would ever be sorted into it again, surely; any clever kid would look at the empty tables and tell the Sorting Hat anywhere but Slytherin, and the Hat wouldn’t make them go.
“What can I do?” Harry said. “Professor, there’s got to be some way to stop it.”
Slughorn blinked at him in a vaguely surprised way. “What’s that? Stop—stop it?” He sounded baffled, and Harry said, in slow horror, “You do think it was on purpose.”
Slughorn looked awkward. “Well—”
“You think I’d try to run every Slytherin out of their homes, out of the country?” Harry said. “Professor, you know me—I’m not—I don’t believe in that purebloods-are-better rot, that doesn’t mean I hate purebloods! Ron is pureblood! My dad was pureblood!”
“Harry, Harry!” Slughorn said, making slightly alarmed calming motions with his hands. “Harry, of course I didn’t think—”
“Why would I do something like that?” Harry said. “What possible reason—”
“Because of the property!” Slughorn said, and Harry stopped and stared at him. “Everyone on your side is already starting to be able to scoop up old estates on the cheap. It’s only by selling to Muggles that anyone can get a decent price even now, and a little bird tells me that Gringotts mean to prohibit the repayment of mortgages with pounds, very soon.”
There was a hard sick knot in Harry’s throat. “Why—” he tried to clear it. “Why would they?”
“Well—once the rest of the Slytherin faction are gone, your side will take a majority in the Wizengamot, and naturally they wish to recommend themselves to the coming administration,” Slughorn said, and then, “Harry, are you all right? Perhaps a drop of firewhisky—”
Harry banged on the Manor gates every few minutes, the two ravens sitting on the top glaring at him watchfully. They’d croaked out, “Warrant? Warrant?” when he’d first arrived, and the gates had refused to so much as budge.
Twenty minutes later, once Harry picked up a rock and started just bashing continuously at the metal, Draco finally showed up on the other side. “What do you want, Potter?” he said flatly. “You can’t possibly imagine that I’m going to let you in here.”
“If I resigned, would that do it?” Harry said.
Draco stared at him. “What?”
“If I resigned!” Harry yelled at him. “Would that stop everyone going?”
Draco paused and then said, “You really didn’t know.”
“No,” Harry snarled. “And if any of you had so much as said a word to me, sooner—”
“Oh, shut it, Potter,” Draco hissed. “As though you’d have given me or Millicent the time of day, if we showed up in your office complaining about Aurors giving Slytherins a hard time. You lunch with Ernie Macmillan once a week. All the people reading in those bills, buying up our houses, they’re your friends. And we’re the sly, loathsome purebloods who lined up behind Voldemort: good riddance, if we did go.”
Harry swallowed hard, hearing Ron’s voice in his head: wouldn’t that be nice. “Fine,” he said, harshly. “Maybe I wouldn’t have listened. But I’m listening now, so what is it going to be: do you want to flounce off to France for the rest of your life, or are you going to help me fix it?”
Draco scowled and folded his arms over his chest. “And what exactly did you have in mind? Your resignation won’t do anything, not at this point. The entire Auror Division is all your people; if it’s not you, it’ll be Weasley or Abbott or whoever is next down from you, and no one’s going to expect better from them.”
Harry shoved his hands into his hair. “Then we’ll have to make them expect better from me,” he said abruptly.
Draco snorted. “Shall I call round to all my friends and say you’ve had a change of heart? Half of them will decide I’ve lost my mind, the other half will decide I’ve made some sort of deal with you to escape prosecution for something.”
“No,” Harry said. “You’re going to call round to all your friends and tell them—tell them you have found a way to keep me at Hogwarts. For at least an extra year.”
“There’s no other Slytherin professors at school,” Harry said. “Nobody else in your crowd knows we’re seeing one another—”
“We’re not seeing one another—”
“Shut up, yes we are!” Harry said, and Draco scowled but didn’t try to argue any further. “The point is, no one in your set has a reason not to believe you. They’ll want the extra time, won’t they? And then—” He paused, thinking hard. “There’s got to be an amnesty. No, you’ve got to sneak through an amnesty,” he amended. “You lot, you’ve all got to feel like you’re putting one over on the rest of us or something. But I’ll get Shacklebolt and Arthur Weasley to vote it through. Something so you can’t be prosecuted just for possession of Dark artifacts, it’s got to be used for a crime. Within the last ten years. And—what else?”
Draco was staring at him through the bars of the fence. After a moment he said slowly, “If you let people deduct the cost of modernizing their houses from the death duties—”
Draco did let him through the gate, eventually, and they spent the rest of the day in the Manor library coming up with a plan, a line of breadcrumbs to lure the Slytherins back to their nests. “But we’re not going to get the time for this to work without some explanation for why you’re going to be staying on another year,” Draco said. “Millicent’s not stupid, Potter, she’s not just going to take my word for it, and there really is virtually nothing I can do that McGonagall couldn’t override, even before she’d excused me from evaluating you.”
“What if I just missed the N.E.W.T.?” Harry said.
“You keep fixating on the bloody exam,” Draco said. “No one cares, Potter. Term will end, McGonagall will write you a letter saying you’ve the good opinion of your instructors, and there’s an end of it. You don’t actually need the N.E.W.T.”
“Right,” Harry muttered. “Um. What if we changed that?”
“What?” Draco said.
“If Shacklebolt puts through a new law,” Harry said. “No more of this requiring good opinion and all that rot—you’ve only got to actually have the N.E.W.T.s required by your department for any position. It’ll look like we’re trying to stop you from blocking me, but afterwards, all you need to do is keep me from the exam.”
Draco’s face screwed up into a sour expression. “Of course you’d want to get rid of millenia of nice, traditional favoritism in one fell stroke,” he said. Harry glared at him. “Fine, I suppose we’ll swallow it, since we wouldn’t be the ones getting favored anymore anyway. How precisely do I arrange to keep you from taking your N.E.W.T.?”
“How have you been arranging everything else?”
“I was giving my seventh-years sabotage assignments they could do instead of their homework. They’ve been rather disappointed at the recent drop-off.”
Harry snorted. “Fine. Get them to set something big off down in the Slytherin dungeons, just before the exam—an explosion or something, the sort of thing I’d go look into as an Auror—
“—and then we can trap you in the dungeons with a Time Distortion until the exam is over,” Draco finished. “But McGonagall can let you do the exam later if she likes, and she certainly will like, if you’ve gone and heroically saved all of Slytherin House.”
“What could stop her?” Harry said.
Draco frowned and stood up and waved his wand at the towering bookshelves. “Referentio! Missing N.E.W.T.s examinations,” and there was a low rumbling as the books shook and trembled on the shelves until twelve of them came sailing down to the desk in front of them and flipped open to different pages.
“Right, so it’s got to be something that exceeds the limits of the Anti-Cheating Charm,” Harry said, reading through the fifth one. “If it would overload the Charm to let me sit the exam late, she can’t do it, not without invalidating the results of all the other students who took the test.”
“Yes, so all we need to do is keep you trapped in the dungeons for a month,” Draco said dryly. “Not a chance, Potter: even if there were a spell to do it, Granger would shoot up here and blow the whole thing wide open in five minutes.”
“Actually… all you’d need to do is keep me in there for the length of the exam,” Harry said slowly, “as long as the rest of the Slytherin seventh-years are in there, too.”
“There’s six of them,” Harry said. “Seven people with a chance to talk to other students coming out of the exam, that’s too much for the Charm to handle.”
“Then none of them get their Potions N.E.W.T., either,” Draco snapped. “Which you’ll have just finished making mandatory for most of the jobs they’ll want.”
“All right, so then they’ve got to stay another year, too,” Harry said. “Won’t they take that trade, to buy their families more time before I take office? And six older students repeating will make up some for Slytherin having fewer students. Not to mention your Quidditch chances…”
“I must say,” McGonagall said, with a thoroughly exasperated expression, “I have never before had a term in which I needed to call two grown men to my office more frequently than any of the children.”
“Sorry, Headmistress?” Harry said, a bit warily.
“Are you indeed.”
“The dungeons were overrun with Shrieking Salamanders?” Harry offered. “There was screaming?”
“I presume you have an excellent explanation for why you were lurking about the Slytherin dungeons to hear this screaming at the very time when you ought to have been on your way to the examination hall?”
“The noise was audible from my chambers?” Draco said, drawling in the most insinuating way possible. Harry glared at him.
There was a cold light in McGonagall’s eye. “Indeed,” she said. “And I presume Mr. Potter was in your chambers for the usual purposes, ten minutes before he was to sit perhaps the most crucial examination of his life?”
“Well, he is completely mad about me,” Draco said, and neatly moved his ankle out of the way of Harry’s kick.
“In that case,” McGonagall said, in deadly measured tones, “I’m sure that you would both be perfectly delighted if I were to invalidate the Potions N.E.W.T. and require all the students to be Obliviated and take it again, so as not to hold up the appointment of the Minister for Magical Enforcement and the entire Slytherin seventh-year class?”
“Er.” Harry darted a look at Draco, who just scowled and folded his arms across his chest. “I—I wouldn’t want you to go to any special lengths?” Harry said lamely.
McGonagall surveyed them both with her lips pursed tightly. “In that case, gentlemen, as it seems we are going to be graced by your presence again next year,” she said, “perhaps it would be best if you found more private quarters. In Hogsmeade.”
“We’ve been kicked out of Hogwarts,” Harry said blankly, as they left her office.
“I suppose it was only a matter of time,” Draco said. “You realize we’re not going to be able to find anything remotely decent. No one’s selling anymore, all the old families have started fighting to buy back in to any wizarding town.”
Harry reached out and took Draco’s hand, firmly ignoring Draco’s scowl: he grudgingly let Harry have it. “We’ll just have to build something new.”