A tall, majestic castle stood proudly on the rocky hill, lit up with flickering lights in the many windows. Sweeping lawns, darkened in the night, reached down to an inky black forest. A grey beach stretched into an obsidian lake. It was the height of July, but the night seemed fresh and cool, the sky clear, with twinkling orbs lighting little of the ground below. There was no moon.
Professor Slughorn huffed and puffed as he jogged up the main staircase. He glanced at an object in his waistcoat pocket. It had several hands, and twelve stars and planets orbiting on a circular face. Despite all other appearances, its general shape suggested it was a watch of sorts.
“Blast! Late for a second meeting in a row!” He muttered, tugging the watches chain so it slid smoothly back into its pocket, without seemingly any outwards force that could of moved it.
“Minerva will be most displeased! But try telling her you were just popping out to Hogsmeade for a box of pineapple and a bottle of mead...” He trailed off as he rounded a corner and came across a very ugly gargoyle.
“Animagi!” He gasped, and then waited impatiently as the gargoyle came to life.
“The meetings already started you know,” it said as it stepped neatly out of the way of a large, thick, oak door.
The Professor ignored it and barged through the door, taking the spiral staircase behind it two steps at a time. He burst through the door at the top, promptly tripping over the door frame and landing in a rather gaunt woman with dark hair’s lap.
Professor Sinestra kindly righted him and pushed him off her, straight into the glare of a tall, bespectacled woman with flowing emerald robes and a very haughty, shrewd expression.
“Late again, Horace?” Professor McGonagall said dryly. “Please find a seat.” She gestured to the one remaining chair by the fireplace.
Slughorn hurried to it, relieved that he had been let off.
“You are just in time for the end announcements.” She gestured towards a portrait on the stone wall of a kindly looking old man with a long, flowing silver beard and half moon glasses perched on a crooked nose, slightly obscuring the sharp, clear, bright blue eyes which took away the man’s appearance of great age and feebleness.
The portrait moved. “Well hello to you all!” It said, the man’s eyes sweeping around the room, piercing everyone with his gaze.
“I wish I could say I was delighted to see you all again, but however, in the circumstances...” He trailed off sadly. “Doubtless, you would like the good news first?”
After a few nods of ascent he continued. “Well firstly, I would like to welcome our new Defence Against The Dark Arts Teacher, whom I believe will be a great asset to this school and to its students. I congratulate Minerva, on making such a first good choice in her role as Headmistress. I introduce you to Draco Malfoy!”
A tall, pale, blond man stepped out from the shadows at the back of the room, a ghost of a genuine smile on his face as he looked at his old Headmaster.
“Thank you, Professor Dumbledore—“He began, when the man in question interrupted from his portrait.
“Oh, please, I’m nobody’s professor anymore. And you’re a teacher yourself!” The young man grinned, the smile lightning up his eyes in way that almost startled the onlookers—they had not seen Draco Malfoy smile, not genuinely, at all before.
“Sorry sir,” the man said, before realising his mistake and grimacing in humour as the other teachers chuckled. “Bad habit, I guess,” as Dumbledore grinned at him good-naturedly.
“Not a problem, you’ll soon get used to it,” the portrait smiled at him.
“However,” the portrait continued, the smile slightly fading, “We have yet to find a new Transfiguration teacher. Minerva is searching, but as this year promises to be a particularly busy one, it is highly unlikely that she can cover the lessons like in previous years. So, she and I expect everyone to rope in and help look for one!” He beamed at the surrounding adults.
“Adverts have gone up in the Daily Prophet and The Quibbler, so hopefully we will hear from some potential new professors! Thank you everyone, Minerva?”
The Headmistress stood up from her large chair behind the desk. “Yes, thank you Dumbledore. Well, that would be all for now. The next meeting will be in August, most likely, unless we discover a candidate to fill the post of Transfiguration teacher before then.”
Professor McGonagall seemed downcast for a moment, as if remembering when it was her in that role. She shook it off, and continued. “A new deputy head will also be decided. If the current heads of houses, Neville Longbottom—” A young man with dark hair and thick eyebrows looked up. “—and Draco Malfoy could stay behind for a little while longer. Goodbye until next time.”
The majority of teachers flowed out, talking and laughing, cheerfully shouting goodbye to Dumbledore, whilst solemnly saying farewell to Minerva McGonagall; until only a small man with tufts of hair and Horace Slughorn remained with the two men, the Headmistress and the portrait.
“Well, Filius,” She cast a seldom-seen smile at the elf-like man who beamed back up at her. “Has agreed to stay on another few years as both teacher of charms and head of house for Ravenclaw. As has Horace for potions and Slytherin...” Professor Slughorn shot her a weak smile which she did not quite return. Instead Dumbledore’s portrait grinned at his old friend.
“However,” She continued, “There is still the matter of Hufflepuff House and Gryffindor House. I myself, obviously, gave up the role when I took the post of headmistress.” Here McGonagall definitely seemed saddened with the memories of her previous job. “And, of course, Pomona retired."
"Neville,” she said, addressing the dark-haired man, “I have decided to change your role from temporary head of Hufflepuff House, to a more permanent position. Your performance as temporary head has been exemplary, and even though you are not of Hufflepuff, and have only held your teaching experience for a few years, you have proved to be an excellent Head of House.”
“Thank you,” said Neville Longbottom. “I fully look forward to it, Minerva!”
“Yes, well, I congratulate you. I will call on you to discuss the slightly modified duties of a permanent Head of House sometime in August,” said Minerva in a clear dismissal. “I look forward to seeing you then.”
And so, Neville left, with cheerful goodbyes to the teachers and a curt nod in Draco Malfoy’s direction, closing the door behind him.
“Well, what do you think of Longbottom for head of Hufflepuff?” Enquired McGonagall to the remaining heads of houses. “I was unsure, seeing he was in Gryffindor, but Albus insisted.
“He’s an excellent choice! Follows in Sprout’s footsteps!” Squeaked Professor Flitwick.
“Unorthodox, maybe—but people are expecting changes to the way the school is run. Not much has changed over the past thousand years, and what with the defeat of—of—” Professor Slughorn seemed unable to spit the next words out.
“Voldemort, Horace!” The portrait of the old headmaster spoke up. “Honestly, after twenty-two years, you still can’t say his name?” He shook his head in humorous despair.
“Sorry, Albus, old chap, force of habit you know,” Horace mumbled, abashed.
“Can’t help it sometimes, I’m afraid. But anyway, people are expecting change, and wanting it. For the first time in decades people want to get out of the rut they’ve been stuck in for centuries. Medieval ways of thinking are gone with the death eaters, and Fudge’s old order of things. The ministry isn’t as bad as it was, especially after Kingsley Shacklebolt and Hermione Granger got rid of those old pure blood laws, but still....I’d be careful Minerva. I wouldn’t do anything too drastic. There are still a lot of old traditionalists clogging up the system. They were getting twitchy when Kingsley wanted to appoint you Headmistress, just because of your, ahem, parentage—”
McGonagall twitched, her nostrils flaring. “—and that’s why it took so long to make you a permanent headmistress, after everything had been sorted after the war!”
Slughorn continued hurriedly. “Mind you, that took a good decade and a half! There’s a lot of bureaucracy still though, from the old established wizarding families, who still have some pro-pure blood attitudes just because it benefits them. But in all, I’d say he was the best choice for the job. He’s a good man, takes after his parents!” He finished heartily.
“Who will be head of Gryffindor house?” Asked Flitwick, with half a curious glance at the newest Professor.
“We are still discussing it, Dumbledore and I.” Said Minerva. “I expect you will know shortly. We will introduce the issue if it has not been resolved at the next head of house meeting. It is unfortunate—” She also shot a glance at Draco. “—that no current teachers were ever in Gryffindor, apart from Hagrid. But he is already gamekeeper, and doesn’t want the post anyway, despite Albus’ persuasions.”
She gave the portrait a disapproving glare. Dumbledore seemed amused by this.
“There is also the matter of him not being a fully qualified wizard of course,” he said gently.
“Yes,” said McGonagall, frowning. “So it seems we will have to make another unorthodox appointment. See what you can come up with, and we’ll have another talk in August.” She nodded at the aged Heads of House.
“I bid you farewell.”
And after a few hasty stumbles on the stairs, Professor Slughorn and his less clumsy and rotund companion, had passed the gargoyle and gone their separate ways.
Draco glanced between the portrait and the woman in confusion. “Did you want to speak to me, Prof—Minerva?” The fair-haired man asked McGonagall.
“Of course, Draco,” she replied. “Dumbledore wished to have a word with you in private.” She exited the room, closing the door behind her.
Draco raised his cloudy grey eyes to meet a pair of piercing blue, staring at him from the largest portrait in the room. All others were gone.
“Ah, you have no idea how much persuasion it took to get them to leave for this meeting!” Said Dumbledore, noticing Draco’s glance at the empty frames.
“I had to agree, that I would let them listen to the next meeting, as long as they stayed quiet! You see, they always interrupt! Well, it’s mainly Phineas, and then all the others will chime in telling him to be quiet! Anyway.... You have been appointed the Defence Against The Dark Art’s teacher. Now, it is somewhat traditional for the Defence teacher to be appointed Head of Gryffindor House."
Now, I know what you’re thinking,” Dumbledore said, noticing the alarmed look on the young teacher’s face. “You were Slytherin! Perhaps the house, with the, ah, most enmity towards Gryffindor House, and vice versa?” His blue eyes twinkled.
“Well, I was wondering about asking Minerva if she would consider getting you and the new Transfiguration teacher, whoever that will be, to share the position, seeing as you will both be new. Therefore you will both be able to help each other. Then, after you have had a few years of experience, one of you may step down, or, one may move on to Slytherin or Ravenclaw House, as both Horace and Filius are considering retirement, and in Horace’s case re-retirement!”
He sighed, noticing Draco’s alarmed face had not changed.
“Look, Draco, I know it’s a big step, but I’ve spoken to all the teachers privately and no one wants the job. But, it would be unfair to seek out an ex-Gryffindor for the Transfiguration job, seeing as we just gave Neville Head of Hufflepuff House. And it would be unfair to choose one of you over the other for Head of House, seeing as you will both be new. And you said yourself, you would welcome being Head of House when you applied, did you not?”
Draco looked down, kicking himself. He had indeed said so, but he never thought he’d get the opportunity! “Yes, yes I did.” He replied in a low voice.
“Well,” said the portrait, surveying him over his spectacles. Draco got the sensation that Dumbledore’s gaze was looking right into him.
“I don’t see any problem with the matter, do you?” Dumbledore asked pointedly.
“The thing is, si—Dumbledore,” said Draco, dropping his gaze.
“I really don’t know if I would be the most suitable person to be head of Gryffindor. I mean, the qualities of a Gryffindor are so very different from that of a Slytherin— and I’ve never exactly shown my approval of Gryffindor courage....People would be worried, it would be the Carrow’s all over again—” His voice broke.
“Draco,” Dumbledore said softly, “Are you truly worried about what people will think because of your past? Look, that’s all behind us. It’s been over twenty years! Harry himself vouched that you were not a Death Eater by choice."
Draco, you are not a killer.”
Draco stifled a gasp and looked up, his eyes full of guilt, as Dumbledore repeated the words that he had spoken on the night he died.
“So, to please an old man, you would take the role? Shared role, of course.” Dumbledore followed smoothly.
“Well! That’s settled then!” Beamed Dumbledore.
“Goodnight, Draco. I will ask McGonagall to consider you and the new teacher, whoever that may be, when she discovers herself the rest of the teachers do not want the position. I will speak to you in August.”
Draco left the room. It took him the time it took to walk out of the castle, and to the Apparition boundary to realise he’d been guilt tripped into the job.
“Galloping gargoyles! I’ve been duped!” He exclaimed.
“Well, the old man’s still got it,” he muttered, as he disappeared with a load crack.
“Yes?” He replied cheerfully, continuing to hum to himself.
“Are you going to tell me why you wanted to talk to Draco?” McGonagall asked with a note of impatience in her voice.
“Ah, that would be telling,” Dumbledore replied with a twinkle. “In due time, Minerva.”
McGonagall sat down on her chair with a sigh.
“Still no improvement?” Asked Dumbledore, his smile fading.
“No.” She said sadly. “We can’t keep it quiet for much longer, you know. We’re going to have to tell everyone, The Order at least. But I just—after so long—”
“Have to shatter their peace?” Said Dumbledore heavily. “I know, Minerva, I know. But it’s for the good of everyone in the long run.”
“We can’t tell them yet!” cried McGonagall, jumping up from her chair. “Not right now!”
“Yes, yes. We’ll wait a little longer. After all, if there is nothing we can do... Let them remain ignorant for as long as possible. Let them enjoy life for as long as possible...”
“But, Albus! We don’t even know if the prophecy is real! And after all, divination isn’t the most precise branch of magic there is...”
“Minerva, do you not remember Sybil’s prophecies? Do I need to remind you?” He nodded towards the large cabinet in the corner of room, containing many small glass bottles, and a large stone bowl.
“No, no, Albus. You’re quite right.” Said McGonagall, looking slightly abashed. “It’s just, after Potter’s and his friends, ahem, antics in the Department of Mysteries, the Hall of Prophecies was put in complete disarray.”
She continued, starting to pace her office floor. “We don’t even know the date of the prophecy, the Seer who made it, the time it refers to, or even who it talks about! It’s hard to believe, that’s all. And the prophecy just doesn’t make any sense! How do we know it hasn’t already been fulfilled and it is Potter the prophecy refers to?!”
“Because, Minerva, the houses have not been united!” Dumbledore said despairingly. “They’re even worse than before! Open animosity, duelling in corridors! They refuse to sit next to each other, make friends! There are parents, complaining and asking for their children to be re-sorted!”
He paused. “And you think it’s bad now! What about later on, in the Wizarding World? Can you imagine a Wizarding World divided into four? Do you remember just two weeks ago, when that Auror, refused to work with his partner, because he was a Slytherin! Prejudice, Minerva! Prejudice! It’s happening again! Don’t you see? Harry may have united the pure-bloods, half-bloods and muggleborns, but he did not unite the houses!”
He took a great sighing breath. Minerva sunk back into her chair, shaken. She suddenly looked much older.
“I just can’t—” her voice broke. “Go through it again. The—violence. The—disappearances. The—deaths—” she looked ready to break down. The strong, brave Scottish woman was no longer. This woman had grey hair, sunken eyes that had lost much of their piercing stare. She looked weak.
The portrait had very moist blue eyes as it said, “We will have to hope, Minerva. Hope, and have faith. Have faith that the New Chosen One will come.”