Gift for: dark0feenix
Length: ~13,000 words
Summary: A change in careers leads Harry in a direction he never expected. Featuring an interfering Headmistress, long forgotten plots, and too small living quarters.
Notes: dark0feenix requested: happy/hopeful ending is a must, others are optional: humour, first time, clumsiness, awkwardness, misunderstandings, kissing, frotting, voyeurism, masturbation, UST when it becomes RST, boys being boys, men being men, Harry and Draco as teachers at Hogwarts, parseltongue, some plot, some banter, determined!Harry, post-HBP.
I tried to include as many of your wants as I could, and I hope I did justice to your request and that you enjoy this! Happy Holidays! Many thanks to my betas E and C for their invaluable suggestions and advice.
After the war, Harry Potter became an Auror.
It wasn't a surprise, and it wasn't anything special. The day he completed Auror training, he didn't even warrant a headline in the Daily Prophet. He had been working towards that moment since his counseling session with McGonagall mid-way through fifth year. He was the only one surprised by his success; to everyone else, it was the natural progression expected in his life.
He smiled when they gave him his first assignment, and he set out to capture Antonin Dolohov with the same determination that had helped him survive through the last few years. It was an easy assignment; Harry hated Dolohov. He was a Death Eater, and one of the worst, and Harry would never forget the way he felt when Hermione had fallen victim to the slashing purple hex at the Ministry in fifth year.
The surprise came when he delivered Dolohov into Shacklebolt's hands, and he was told to go home for the night. "Well done," Kingsley had said. "We'll take it from here."
Harry went home and turned restlessly in his bed, only managing to tangle himself in the sheets so badly he could hardly move. He rationalized it to himself; it wasn't his job to hand down punishment to criminals; that was up to the Wizengamot and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. He was an Auror, and he did the grunt work, no, the important work, he corrected himself. He brought the murdering bastards in.
That calmed him, and he fell asleep with the thought of justice being served. Dolohov was sentenced to life in Azkaban, and while Harry may have preferred he receive the kiss, he firmly quenched that thought and nodded when Kingsley handed him his newest assignment.
"We detected activity in Yorkshire," Tonks told him. "It might be nothing, but we need you to check it out."
"What is it?"
"We think there might be fugitive Death Eaters in the area. Look for any sign of dark magic residue."
Harry agreed, and tried not to frown. It didn't seem like much of an assignment to just go and have a look around. Kingsley wouldn't send him on a fool's errand though, and he was always ready to take another Death Eater off the streets. It still felt rather tame after having spent so many months engaged in a battle that had seemed likely to never end.
Yorkshire was loud and busy as Harry weaved his way through the crowded streets. He did his best to ignore everyone around him and moved on to inspect the locations where the report indicated the activity should be. He pointed his wand at the walls of a boarded over shack, searching for any sign of magic. The only thing that looked at all out of place was a bit of liquid in the dirt. He touched his finger to it and sniffed; there was no smell, so he dismissed the idea of it being a potion.
"Well," he said, talking to himself. "If there was a Dark Wizard here, they're long gone now."
He Apparated back to the Ministry and gave his report. "Right," said Kingsley. "That's what we thought. You'll get a new assignment shortly."
Harry frowned. He opened his mouth to speak, and shut it again.
"What is it?" Kingsley asked, looking impatient and as though he was far too busy to deal with Harry.
"Only, aren't we going to keep investigating the area? If there were Death Eaters there, they might come back."
"If they do, we'll worry about it then. There's nothing to investigate if we haven't a place to begin."
"Right," said Harry, and he went home.
He wished that he had Ron and Hermione with him to bounce ideas off of. It felt like a mystery, and mysteries were meant to be solved, not tossed to the wayside. He vowed to go back on his own if he had to because he wasn't one to let the usage of Dark magic go. There was a reason it was illegal, and Harry would make the perpetrator pay if he had to do it himself.
True to Kingsley's word, he had a new assignment within three days, and it took all of Harry's time. He never made it back to Yorkshire, and every time he reminded himself to go, something new came up in the case he was working on.
His new case involved another Death Eater that needed to understand what it meant to suffer the way he had when he lost friends, and that took precedence over the case in Yorkshire.
It didn't matter how many new assignments Harry received, the number he solved and the number not revisited never evened out enough to make him satisfied. There was something uncomfortable brewing in the air, and Harry couldn't stand not having the freedom to find out what it was. He had learned during training that working on a closed case was against Auror rules, but they closed cases quicker than Harry expected.
It didn't sit well with him, working in this Ministry bureaucracy.
Harry lasted fifteen months of being a full Auror before he stormed out of the Ministry of Magic without looking back. He had been calm when he told Kingsley his decision, and only angry when Kingsley looked not at all surprised.
"Best to get out before it's too late," he had said, trying to sound sage, but Harry found his tone entirely too condescending.
There was a quick flash of regret, but he squashed it as best as he could. He had wanted to be an Auror for so long that walking out on his chosen career seemed like punishing himself. It was the only job he'd ever wanted, but he hated it. He enjoyed the training; day in and day out of mock duels and test cases were like solving the mysteries Harry remembered from his Hogwarts days. Being out on the field was entirely different, and not in a good way.
Harry realized he wanted adventure of a different sort and he wasn't going to get it working for the Ministry. He went straight to Hermione's flat after Disapparating, and was pleased to find Ron already there.
The kettle whistled on the stove, and Hermione poured him a cup of tea, her eyes holding none of the disappointment he had expected to find there.
"What are you going to do now?" Ron asked, and Hermione elbowed him in the stomach.
Harry laughed, and tried to quash the fear that threatened to overwhelm him. "No idea," he said, and hoped it didn't come out as strangled as it felt.
Ron and Hermione exchanged a look, and Harry focused his eyes on his cup, fiddling with the chipped handle.
"Don't worry, Harry," Hermione said. "I'm sure you made the right decision."
Harry looked up at the two of them, knowing the pity they felt was out of friendship but he resented it all the same. "I'm not worried," he said. He set his empty cup of tea on the table and stood up. "I've got to go."
He Apparated home and collapsed into the orange armchair in the middle of his small flat. It had been a present from Ron, and even though Harry had winced at the color, he had to admit that it was far more comfortable than the stiff leather couch he had purchased when he first got his own place.
What are you going to do now?
Ron's voice echoed in his head, and he rubbed his eyes with his hands. He had no idea, but surely whatever he came up with had to be better than what he had been doing. He could figure it out later; after all, it wasn't as though he needed the money to survive.
The next morning, Harry spread jam onto a piece of toast and pulled open the Daily Prophet. In bold print, his name screamed out at him: Boy-who-lived abandoning Wizarding World? Harry Potter walks out on Auror post. His jaw clenched, and he folded it neatly once more, tossing it in the rubbish bin as he left the kitchen. His toast lay uneaten on the table, the knife still resting on the bread.
Harry fastened his cloak around his shoulders and headed out the door. He wasn't sure where he was going, but a walk seemed in order to clear out the anger that didn't want to disappear. He calmed himself down with the techniques Remus had taught him during the war. He wondered where Remus was now, but let that thought slip away. Remus Lupin had never been found.
He settled down at a nearby Muggle café, safe in the assumption that no one would recognize him here. The unmistakable sneer in a voice that spat out the name, "Potter," left him shutting his eyes in defeat.
Glancing up, he saw Draco Malfoy seated at a table across from him with a bloke that Harry vaguely recognized from Hogwarts at his side.
"Malfoy," he said. He ran his fingers through his hair, wondering how much trouble he would be in if he harmed Malfoy. It would give him someone to take his anger out on, but it might not go over well at the Ministry. "What do you want?"
"I heard you were fired, Potter. It's not surprising, I suppose. We all knew you couldn't stand someone else having control."
Harry glared at Malfoy and stood up. He knew if he stayed that it would end either with wands out or hands around each other's throat. For a moment, he considered it, but instead forced himself to calm down.
"At least the Aurors accepted me," he snarled, unable to keep from reminding Malfoy that he had been rejected.
With one last glare at Malfoy, he dropped a few pounds on the table before setting off again. It wouldn't do to take out his anger on Malfoy in the middle of a crowded Muggle area. And besides, it wasn't like Malfoy was the one printing tasteless rumors in the news – he was only repeating them. Last he had heard, Malfoy was working at Hogwarts.
Back at his flat, Harry switched on the telly and curled up in his armchair, idly flicking the channels, hoping for something to catch his eye. He had never quite understood the appeal of television, perhaps because the Dursleys forbade him to watch it for so many years. He wasn't even sure why he had bought one for his flat except for Ron's prodding because he was enamored with the 'Muggle machine'.
Harry smiled, thinking of his best friend, and wished Ron was there right now. He was likely with Hermione, and while he appreciated his friends' happiness, it didn't ease the loneliness that often descended on him.
A loud crack interrupted his thoughts, and he glanced over to find Dobby bouncing up and down.
"Dobby," he said, rubbing his eyes tiredly. It had been ages since he had last seen Dobby, and he tried to remember exactly when the last time was – it had been shortly before he began Auror training five years earlier. "What are you doing here?"
"I've come to take you home, Mister Harry Potter sir," Dobby exclaimed in his squeaky voice, practically jumping with glee.
"Er," said Harry, glancing around to make sure he hadn't left his flat without realizing it. "But I am home."
"Harry Potter is not home! Hogwarts is Harry Potter's home, and Hogwarts is where Harry Potter goes."
Harry shook his head. "Dobby," he started, wondering at this turn of events. The last time Dobby had sought him out during a summer it was to demand he stay away from Hogwarts, not to demand he go there. "What would I do at Hogwarts? I'm not a student any more." He frowned, hoping that Kreacher's madness wasn't contagious… perhaps he shouldn't have left the old Black family elf at Hogwarts for so long.
"Oh no, no, no," Dobby said. "Dobby is being a bad elf and not explaining himself. Harry Potter is to come to Hogwarts to teach." Dobby's eyes went wide, and he moved to slam his head into the nearby wall. "Dobby wasn't supposed to say that. Dobby was supposed to request Harry Potter to come see Headmistress McGonagall. Dobby is a bad elf, bad elf, bad elf."
At some point during this speech, Harry grabbed Dobby around the middle, feeling oddly as though he had gone back several years in time. "You don't have to punish yourself, Dobby. It's all right. I'll go see the Headmistress, okay?"
"No, no, no – Dobby shouldn't have said anything, Harry Potter sir!"
"I'm sure the Headmistress won't mind, all right, Dobby? It's all right that you told me."
Dobby looked uncertain, but then tears filled his wide eyes. "Harry Potter is too kind, too kind!"
"Right," said Harry, seeing no way out of this. "Let's go to Hogwarts then, shall we? You go on ahead, and I'll be right behind you."
Dobby looked at Harry closely: it was very strange to feel as though a house elf was testing the truth of his words. "I promise," he added. "I just need a shower; I'm not fit to go see McGonagall like this."
Once Dobby believed him, Harry ran a shower and pondered over the situation. Teaching at Hogwarts was certainly nothing he had ever considered before, but he did need a job. He thought it would be nice to return to the castle, and see many of his old Professors again. Neville taught there now, and Harry would have one friend straight away.
Thinking of Neville teaching immediately reminded him of his run in with Malfoy earlier in the day, and he scowled. "And one enemy as well," he muttered, already rethinking the idea.
Malfoy had begun teaching Potions two years earlier according to Hermione, and he wasn't sure that any job was worth having to put up with that git every day. He could picture Malfoy's pointy face and his lips that were always curled in a sneer, and he couldn't imagine what good would come of that. Malfoy would be unbearable, he thought, but couldn't help imagining the lines of Malfoy's jaw and the way his eyes had flashed when he had seen Harry in the café.
Unaccountably, Harry found his cock hardening, and he attempted to push all thought of Malfoy away. He just hadn't had a good wank in awhile, he told himself. It had nothing to do with Malfoy.
He gripped his cock firmly and tried to will the image of Malfoy away. It worked for a moment, and he forced himself to think of Charlie Weasley, who had always succeeded in making him hard before. Water ran down his face as he pulled at his cock, stroking and picturing freckles and scarred arms from one too many dragon attacks.
Then Malfoy's face was back, and all Harry saw was pale blond hair and gray eyes before he was coming in thick spurts onto his hand. He felt dirty even as he stood in the shower, and he turned the water to cold.
Returning to Hogwarts was simply out of the question.
He took a deep breath, and stepped out of the shower. Now all he had to do was explain to McGonagall exactly why he was refusing whatever position she was offering him.
"Professor," he said, and he reached out to take her hand, smiling softly. "It's good to see you again."
McGonagall smiled at him from behind her desk, and sorrow threatened to overwhelm him as he remembered Dumbledore sitting there. "Harry," she said. "Thank you for coming on such short notice."
Harry shrugged. "It was no problem. Besides, telling Dobby 'no' is simply not an option."
"Would you like a cup of tea?" McGonagall asked, already standing to pour a second one.
"Thank you," he murmured, accepting the tea and settling into a chair. "What can I do for you, Professor?" he asked, leery of straying from the reason she had invited him there. He would have to turn her down quickly before memories drew him in so far he wouldn't be able to refuse.
McGonagall took her time stirring her tea before leaning forward to look at him. "I understand you have resigned your post with the Aurors?" she asked, with the air of one making casual conversation.
"Yes," said Harry. "I… it wasn't the right position for me."
"Hmm," McGonagall said, tapping her fingers on the desk. "You seemed quite set on it during career counseling."
Harry swallowed hard. "That was a long time ago… before –" he waved his hand in a gesture that seemed to encompass everything around him. "Before it all began."
"Of course, of course," she said. "No one can fault you for giving it a chance, in any case." He wasn't sure, but it almost seemed like she was holding more of a conversation with herself than with him. Perhaps Dumbledore's inherent eccentricity had passed on to her.
"Right," Harry agreed, not knowing what else to say. He could deal with a strict McGonagall sentencing him to detention, but this almost sympathetic and thoughtful version wasn't making much sense to him.
"Well, Potter," she said. "I would like to offer you a position here."
"Here?" Harry repeated, startled even though Dobby had broken the news. Somehow he still hadn't quite been able to believe that McGonagall would ever be daft enough to offer him a position teaching. He had been quite a handful as a student, and it was difficult to believe she would trust him to teach impressionable young minds. "Teaching?"
"Yes, Mister Potter," McGonagall said briskly, her thick Scottish brogue making each word sharp. "Teaching. Defense Against the Dark Arts, naturally."
"Naturally," Harry repeated, a frown creasing the skin between his eyebrows. "I thought you had a new Professor just last year – some Witch from Germany with a penchant for capturing Dark Wizards?"
McGonagall looked suddenly tired, and Harry grew alarmed. "I suppose there comes a time when you can't win every duel," McGonagall said. "The Curse did not die with Voldemort, I am forced to admit. We haven't held a Professor for longer than a year since you killed him. Likerson was the third Professor to end up in an adventure of sorts that left her unable to return."
"And the others?"
Even if McGonagall hadn't replied, the expression on her face was answer enough. "None of it is good," she confirmed. "For a variety of reasons, they could never return the following year… they were either incapacitated or too frightened to brave these walls again."
"Why are you asking me then?" Harry asked quickly. "I can't say I'm too keen on the idea of taking a cursed job."
"It's simple, Harry," McGonagall said. "You're the only one with enough power to break the curse. I doubt very much that it would even affect you. There's also a spell that I thought we could try…"
Put that way, it made Harry want to return just to take care of the Curse for her. "I could come for two years and attempt to break it for you," he offered. "But after that, you have to find someone more suited to the position."
"As you wish," she replied, and Harry thought she might be hiding a smile. He had a sudden sick feeling that he had just gotten into something he didn't quite understand.
He sighed heavily. "What do I have to do?"
She handed him several pages worth of parchment and a quill. "There's your contract. You should peruse it and sign on the bottom of the fourth page."
Harry flipped through the pages, barely taking in the words. Salary, check, rules, check, benefits, check. He signed his name and passed it back over.
"That was quick."
He shrugged, and then noticed a mischievous glint in her eyes. He suddenly wished he had the contract back to read more closely. "Can I get a copy of that?" he asked, thinking it would be best to read it before term began.
"Certainly," she replied, duplicating the sheaf with a swish of her wand. "Term begins on September the first. You may ride the train with the students or arrive via Apparition in Hogsmeade."
"And the spell?" he asked, curious as to what she would need to do.
"It was in the contract. Your signature just activated it." McGonagall looked quite pleased with herself, and Harry smiled.
"All right," Harry said. "I'll see you soon, Professor." He stood up to leave, opening the door to her office. He had gone there with the firm intention to turn her down and become completely unable to just because she appealed to his 'saving-people-thing'.
"Oh, and Mister Potter?"
"Yes?" he asked, turning to look at McGonagall.
"See that you don't break any rules." Her face was drawn in a stern frown, and her words were sharp and strict, her lips thin.
Harry smiled. "Of course not. You know me, I'm a to-the-letter kind of bloke."
McGonagall frowned and opened her mouth to say something scathing, Harry was sure. But Harry chuckled and walked away, feeling much more cheerful. That was the McGonagall he knew.
He had barely made it ten steps away from the stone gargoyle when a voice stopped him where he stood. "Potter." The cold, hard tone was easy enough to place.
He turned around. "Malfoy," he said, attempting a polite nod.
"What are you doing wandering the school? I wasn't aware you had come back… though, I don't doubt you could do with a few more years of schooling."
"If I remember correctly," Harry said coldly, "you did return here first. I suppose that meant you were even dumber than I must be."
"Well," Malfoy said. "At least you can admit to your idiocy."
Harry clenched his jaw. "Look, I'll be teaching here come September," he said. "I suppose I'll see you then."
He turned to walk away, and was oddly disappointed when Malfoy didn't call him back. He walked to the gates picturing furious gray eyes and long, slender fingers. Fingers that he could almost see wrapping around his –
Shaking his head, he tried to clear the image. He was never going to last a week, much less two years. This was ridiculous, he decided. He just needed to go home and get some rest.
The three weeks after his meeting at Hogwarts flew by far quicker than Harry expected. Well before he would have liked, he was Apparating to Hogsmeade, his trunk packed and shrunken inside his pocket.
The air was chilly as he walked, and he pulled his black robes tightly around his body, wishing that he hadn't packed his winter cloak. The light robes he was wearing didn't do much to keep the cold away.
Malfoy would surely be decked out in the fanciest robes around, Harry found thought, scowling. He had been unable to get Malfoy out of his head ever since their last meeting, and he tried to pretend it was only because he was worried about teaching alongside him this year.
It wasn't at all because every time he shut his eyes he saw Malfoy's sneer and icy gray eyes flashing in anger. Perhaps Malfoy had cursed him that day in the café… he hadn't given Malfoy any thought since leaving Hogwarts and the war behind, and now all of a sudden, it was all he could do to not think of him.
The castle came into view, and Harry smiled softly. It looked the same as ever; Voldemort had never managed to breach Hogwarts wards a second time. Harry had made sure of that with the Order's help. It had remained their one safe haven throughout the war, and it stood as strong and tall as ever.
Pushing open the doors, he walked inside and headed for the rooms McGonagall assigned him. They were in the dungeons, and when Harry had questioned her, she had merely explained that the tower rooms were full. Harry couldn't help but think that the twinkle in her eyes had been oddly reminiscent of Dumbledore, and that she was most assuredly up to something. The trouble was, he hadn't a clue what that might be.
"Why aren't there any desks?"
Harry turned around from where he had been speaking quietly with a fifth year Ravenclaw who had stayed after class to find his sixth year class gazing around his empty classroom.
"Desks are irrelevant for today's lesson," said Harry. He turned back to the fifth year. "Is that all, Miss Corner? If so, you should be getting to your next class. I hear Professor Malfoy doesn't take kindly to lateness."
The girl hurried out, practically running, and Harry suppressed a smile. It wasn't every Ravenclaw who reminded him of Hermione, but he was starting to think that this student was even more inquisitive than she had ever been.
"Where are we supposed to sit then?" One of the more vocal Gryffindor students had continued speaking, uncaring that his Professor was engaged in conversation.
"The correct deduction," Harry replied, "is that you won't be sitting during this lesson, Mister Garrett."
He glanced at his watch, and then remembered it was broken. He really did need to be better about replacing his possessions when they stopped working.
"Divide into pairs," he called out before they could pester him with more questions. "No," he interrupted as the students immediately turned to their friends. "Pair up with someone who isn't in your house. I don't care what house they are in, so long as you aren't in it as well."
House rivalry hadn't declined much in the years since Harry had been there, he soon realized. Gryffindors paired with Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws and the Slytherins went straight for the Ravenclaws. The Gryffindor and Slytherin students only paired up as a last resort which made it a rarity that it ever occurred.
He sighed; the four house system should really have been abolished, in his mind. Yet, no one would ever dare to criticize the founders' way of running the school.
"Does everyone have a partner?" Receiving no response, he began the lesson. "Today we're doing a review of sorts."
"We've been reviewing every day," said Susan Strickland. "How is this any different?"
"I've been trying to ascertain your current levels of knowledge, yes," Harry agreed. "Today, we're putting it to the test. You will duel. I don't want any cheating or any curses thrown that aren't in the sixth year curriculum. Other than that, it's fair game. I'll be walking around to comment and assist you as you work together."
He liked these classes the best. It reminded him of teaching the DA back in his fifth year, and it always felt more comfortable than standing at the front of a class lecturing. The only real problem was the sixth years' shield charms were terrible. The Defense professors truly hadn't improved any since Harry was in school.
A stray tickling charm headed his way, and he quickly dispelled it. "Watch where your wand is pointing, Miss Jones. You don't want to hit someone on your side in a duel, now do you?" He adjusted her grip on her wand until she could get the charm off properly so it headed towards her partner. "Much better."
The class went well; he didn't have to send a single student to the hospital wing. It had been close when a Ravenclaw managed a particularly powerful finger-removing jinx that Harry barely saw coming in time to erect a shield. A compliment to the student along with a reminder to only use curses that didn't cause actual injury and a quick lesson on shield charms helped put the two back on track.
By the time that class let out, Harry was exhausted. It was his last class for the day, but he already had somewhere else he had to be.
Classes had been in session for two weeks, and Harry felt as though he was being constantly watched. He surprised himself by actually enjoying his classes, especially as he'd ultimately convinced himself that he was only here to do McGonagall a favor.
Speaking of the Headmistress, it was she who had requested a meeting with him immediately following his last class. He frowned, thinking the note she had given him had been very vague. It was easy to hide behind the pretense of simply wanting to find out how things were going for him, but he doubted that McGonagall was thinking along those lines. They had spoken at length plenty of times since his arrival while dining in the Great Hall; this wasn't something she needed to call him away for a private meeting to discuss.
As he made his way up the spiral staircase, he had to push down the usual feeling of melancholy that came with her office. The notion that Headmaster Dumbledore would be there when he reached the top was an idea that Harry had never fully been able to rid himself of.
"Headmistress," he murmured, after she beckoned him inside. He was surprised to find both Kingsley Shacklebolt and Draco Malfoy already seated.
He frowned, taking the one open chair that she gestured him towards. "What's going on?" he asked at once.
Malfoy snorted, but Harry simply ignored him. Kingsley answered, and Harry turned towards him in surprise.
"You recall the mission I sent you on in Yorkshire?"
"Of course." Harry shrugged. "It was a dead end, you said."
Kingsley shifted in his chair, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "We called you off the lead because we didn't want you involved, Harry."
Harry was instantly on alert. "Why not?"
"It involved Mister Malfoy here, and we know the two of you have some bad history."
The two men snorted in unison and then glared at each other. "A bit of an understatement, sir," Harry remarked, but looked closely at Kingsley, all his old Auror training firmly in place. "Go on."
"Shortly after we received the tip and sent you out to investigate, Draco contacted Minerva and requested her help."
Harry glanced between Malfoy and McGonagall. "Why?"
"In case you haven't realized, Potter," Malfoy said, sounding every bit as hateful as he did when they were in school. "I was on your side during the war. Don't you think I had to relay my information to someone?"
"Er," said Harry blankly, trying to assimilate that into all the things he thought about Malfoy. "I thought you were in hiding."
"I wasn't," Malfoy replied shortly. Harry waited for him to continue, but he didn't.
"All right, so Malfoy was on our side. Great, but what does that have to do with Yorkshire?"
"It was an attempt on his life," McGonagall interrupted. "He came to me directly after it happened because of the potion that they tried to use."
"What was it?"
"That's part of the problem," Kingsley said, his booming voice too loud in the silence. "It was a potion Voldemort was developing before he died. We knew it had never been completed, and we were under the assumption that the notes died with him."
"I never heard about a potion," Harry said. "How did you find out about it? How do you know it's even harmful?"
"I was one of the people assigned to the development team, Potter. Harmful would be an understatement."
"What does it do?"
"It imitates the Dementors' Kiss," Malfoy said quietly. "It sucks out your soul. My father," Harry was surprised to note the way Malfoy's lips twisted bitterly on the word, "was the one in charge of assuring that it would work."
"But why would anyone want to do that?" Harry asked. "Wouldn't the killing curse be enough? It's all to the same end, isn't it?"
"Yes and no," Kingsley said. "It's much easier to use a potion; it requires neither the power nor the hate that the killing curse feeds on. It's fueled by unhappy emotions, and we all have plenty of that. The more worrying part, however, is what happens after the soul has left the victim. The body is still alive, and Voldemort's plan was to create an army of Inferi from thousands of Muggles. It would be easy to kill off the entire world using the people he wanted dead in the first place."
Harry thought quickly. "The Muggles wouldn't stand a chance."
Malfoy laughed, and it sounded so bitter that even Harry was surprised. "Of course they wouldn't. The Muggles would kill each other off on their own, and Voldemort wouldn't have to lift a finger."
Kingsley interrupted. "That isn't the worst part. Voldemort had intended to produce this potion in the thousands, to empty it into the water supply. He wanted to get it down to the point where only a drop was needed to affect the victim." Harry was horrified. "Luckily, it isn't that advanced. The Death Eaters could still infect hundreds with it, if they brew it fast enough."
"Is there an antidote?" Harry questioned, his mind whirling through the mass panic that this could easily create. If the Death Eaters could make this potion work, then it wouldn't be long before a new war would break out.
"I'm sure there is," Malfoy said. "In order to find out what it is, however, I need to know the complete ingredients and instructions for the potion itself."
"How are you going to find that out?"
"I have the notes."
"That should be easy enough then, right? Wait, if that is so, then wouldn't the Death Eaters have already figured it out?"
"The notes are in code. We've been trying to figure them out, and I think I've got the best chance at it of anyone."
"All right," Harry agreed, assuming that the notes were written in his father's hand. It would make sense that Malfoy would be the best person to decode that.
Harry looked towards McGonagall. "You said they tried to use the potion," he recalled. He turned towards Malfoy. "How did you escape?"
"The Death Eaters haven't quite figured it out," Malfoy said, a small smile playing around his lips. "They're much closer than I ever thought they would get, but the potion hasn't been completed yet." Malfoy frowned in thought. "I never thought any of the Death Eaters would understand the scribbling on those notes; I hardly do and I am well acquainted with the penmanship."
"Voldemort is dead," Harry said softly. "Why is this surfacing now?"
Kingsley looked troubled. "That's what we don't know. Harry, we're going to need your help."
Harry's lips twisted into a bitter smile. He was unsurprised, but still wished he would have an easy year, if only just one.
"What do you need me to do?"
"We need you to stay with Mister Malfoy, watch over him. Whoever is behind this is quite keen on making Draco the first victim; if anyone can get to the bottom of this, it will be you two working together."
Harry could easily think of a thousand things he would rather do than spend time watching over Malfoy. Yet, he needed to catch whoever was behind this, and he could already feel curiosity thrumming through his veins.
"I don't need Potter's protection," Malfoy said. "I'm perfectly capable of defending myself."
If anything, that statement made Harry ready to vow to protect Malfoy; it was the simple fact that Malfoy didn't want him to do so. He nodded at Kingsley, ignoring Malfoy. "What would you have me do?"
"Take up residence with Mister Malfoy immediately," Kingsley said. "Intercept anything suspicious, and know where he is at all times. I know I can count on you to find out who is behind this, Harry."
"Yes, sir," he replied at once, falling easily back into the role where Kingsley was his boss. "I'll do it."
"What? Potter – "
Harry cut Malfoy off. "You're the one who said we should move past schoolboy grudges, aren't you?" he reminded him. "I suppose this is one of those times where it's in both our best interests to do what the Minerva and Kingsley suggest."
"Potter," Malfoy said, looking utterly horrified. "I can't live with you."
Really, Harry thought, Malfoy could be a bit more grateful for the sacrifice Harry was making to protect him.
"I don't like it any more than you do, Malfoy. But it won't be so bad. It's not like you've never roomed with anyone before; you did it here for seven years, what's one more?"
Malfoy muttered something that Harry couldn't quite make out, which was really probably for the best.
"Right," Harry said, standing up. "Are we done here? Malfoy will need to move his things to my rooms –"
"What? If anyone is moving, it's you, Potter. I don't want to do this; you're the one who's so keen to move in with me."
Harry could swear McGonagall was smirking and that even Kingsley looked amused. He would have to be the 'bigger man', as Hermione would say, and simply put up with Malfoy's ridiculous pettiness.
"Fine. You'll have to show me where your rooms are, of course."
Malfoy turned a pleading look on the Headmistress. "Minerva," he said. "You're not really suggesting that Potter live with me?"
Her tight lips relaxed and twisted slightly. "Oh, I think you'll find I'm suggesting exactly that."
"Mental," Harry distinctly heard Malfoy mutter under his breath, and Harry had to agree. It was mental, but there was some form of amusement to be found in knowing that Malfoy hated the idea even more than Harry did. Not that he was going along with the plan just to spite him, or anything. He bit his lower lip to keep from smiling as Malfoy's face contorted into several quick expressions that Harry could hardly make out. Perhaps this would be fun.
As though she heard his last thought, McGonagall's lips tightened once more. "You must both take this threat seriously. They may not have figured out the final ingredient yet, but it is only a matter of time. Draco, you know what it is, which is likely more of the reason they want to find you so badly."
Malfoy nodded, looking as though any option that didn't include Harry would be preferable, no matter what it was. "Couldn't someone else guard me?" he asked, putting an odd emphasis on the word 'guard'. Harry remembered hating every single Order member that was on shift at Privet drive, even when he enjoyed their company at other times. He could understand why Malfoy would feel uncomfortable.
"Mister Potter is the best choice," McGonagall said gently. "He has the experience and the skills to do everything in his power to keep you safe. You just have to let him."
Malfoy sat quietly for a few moments, and Harry decided it was time for them to make an exit. There wasn't any fighting this, and besides, now that Harry knew what was going on, it would make his job easier if he was guarding Malfoy. Though, it did remind him a bit too much of his sixth year for comfort. At least this time, he wouldn't be trying to sneakily stalk Malfoy; he had Auror permission to do so.
"Come on, Malfoy," Harry said. "Lead me to my new quarters, won't you?"
Malfoy turned and walked out of the office without replying. Harry shrugged, and followed him.
"I just hope he doesn't show me to the forbidden forest," he called over his shoulder on the way out.
He caught up with Malfoy just around the corner from McGonagall's office.
Malfoy scowled at him and sped up.
"Oh, come off it. It's not the end of the world."
"You know, Potter. You sure do seem to be enjoying this. Some might think you want to live with me. Why might that be? Going to sneak into my room after I'm asleep and –"
Harry interrupted him. "I'm not going to kill you while you're asleep, Malfoy. I just knew arguing wasn't going to do me any good. I had enough experience of that sort from Dumbledore, and I'm fairly certain that McGonagall picked up all his old tricks, or at least the ones she found useful."
"That wasn't what I was suggesting you would do while I slept," Malfoy said, and walked away, leaving Harry standing still in the middle of the corridor.
"What?" he murmured, and hurried to catch up. He cuffed Malfoy on the back of the head, like he would have done to Ron, but Malfoy responded with a glare and a shove. "Don't be stupid, Malfoy. That's sick, even for you."
"And yet," Malfoy replied, almost more to himself than to Harry, "you're the one who decided what I was referring to."
Then, Malfoy winked and walked through a door that Harry was sure hadn't been there a moment before.
* CONTINUED IN PART TWO *