He had sent his trusted follower to investigate for him. Find out the cause of the power, determine whether it was a threat, if so disposing of said wizard or witch, or determine if the power could be used for their benefit, in which case said wizard or witch would accompany him to England, or determine if it was neither, which was what her personally expected to find. Any of the Death Eaters could have successfully accomplished this mission, but Voldemort had deliberately selected him. He knew why, it was repayment for his questioning the Dark Lord's plans at a meeting recently. He'd foolishly spoke his mind, receiving this assignment as punishment. So now, Lucius Malfoy, pureblood wizard from one of the most distinguished and respected families, was skulking around a cemetery like some muggle grave robber. Lucius was not all pleased with this assignment, having accepted it with an arched brow but cursing every item in his home as he'd waited for the portkey that would bring him to this stupid town. Sunnydale, California. What a dreadfully horrible name, he thought crossly as he continued to walk through the cemetery. He had been in town two days, thus far confirming his belief that this was a futile and pointless exercise, merely punishment for daring question Voldemort.
Lucius had been a loyal follower of the Dark Lord for a majority of his life, becoming an expert at the dark arts, never having reason to question his beliefs or decision to follow Voldemort. Lately, though, he had found himself growing discontent with his Dark Lord. He had not given any indication of his doubts, knowing that such an act would result in his death, but he had had to acknowledge that he was no longer a devoted and loyal wizard. It had begun with his wife's death, he supposed, a frown crossing his handsome face as he stopped walking and leaned against a headstone. He had married Narcissa for an heir and to unite two of the strongest wizarding families, never really loving the beautiful but cold woman that had born his child but growing to become fond of her, in a way. She had not been loyal to Voldemort, having no particular fondness for muggles but believing that the Dark Lord was crazy and dangerous, not wanting her son to follow in Lucius' footsteps by becoming a servant of the dark wizard. Lucius had often fought with her, the arguments ending with violence and her silent tears as she'd finally remember her place.
When she was gone, died suddenly in her sleep of an unknown heart condition of all things, Lucius had realized that he had cared for her. He had spent many long hours alone, sitting and thinking, nothing else to do but remember her words and worries concerning Draco. The second event that caused Lucius to question his Lord was caused by his own son. He had never been a good father, the wizard able to acknowledge that he'd often ignored his son, been too harsh, never shown any sign of affection, such emotional outbursts not being a Malfoy trait. After Narcissa's death, Draco had returned home for the funeral and Lucius had been stunned to see a man where the little boy had been. Draco was fifteen, already nearly as tall as Lucius himself, his pale blond hair no longer slicked back in that unattractive way, instead falling to his neck and framing a face that was even more handsome than Lucius' own, something that really annoyed the elder wizard. He had been shocked when his son had spoken against Voldemort, having always believed that his son would, indeed, follow in his footsteps. The young man that he no longer knew had sounded like his mother, denouncing Voldemort and his followers as evil. He had looked directly into Lucius' eyes as he quietly informed his father that he was joining Dumbledore and those morons at the ministry in their fight against Voldemort, stating calmly that he believed he had finally made a decision in which his Mum would have been proud of him.
Lucius had remained silent, a part of him knowing that he should kill the boy for daring say such things about his Dark Lord, but another part of him could do nothing to the boy that was his son. He had let Draco go back to school, never speaking of their conversation to anyone, but he had thought about it. Wondering if his own son, a mere boy, could be right, could understand things in such a way that he no longer could. He had asked Severus to keep an eye on his son, trusting the man that had been his friend for so many years to protect his son should the need arise. Lucius had not changed his behavior at all, still playing the part of loyal follower, knowing that he was not in a position to simply walk away. He would die if he opposed Voldemort. He was not frightened of death, but it would not just be his death. Voldemort would kill Draco before killing him, and Lucius could not allow that to happen. He was angry with his son for choosing a different path, but he had to respect the boy for making such a courageous decision. The blond wizard unknowingly moved his fingers over the ring emblazoned with a dragon that had been Draco's, left on his dresser when he had gone back to school, a reminder to Lucius that he had lost his son.
Lucius was unclear what he was going to do, finding himself at a crossroads and not at all sure which path to choose. He envied Draco's ability to make such a brave choice, even if he believed that it might be the wrong choice. Lucius, himself, had been having many an internal debate on which side he should choose, though he wasn't really in a position to change loyalties at this stage of the game, even if he was having doubts. Voldemort was not yet strong enough to win, that annoying Potter whelp managing to successfully set the Dark Lord back with defeat after defeat. There was a very good chance that Voldemort would eventually be defeated, and Lucius hated to be on the losing side of any fight. But Lucius also believed that Voldemort might one day grow strong enough to succeed with his plans of exterminating and enslaving muggles and ridding the world of all but pureblood wizards and he feared for his son if this came to pass. Lucius was not a man used to caring, selfish and ambitious and driven and thirsting for power were more suitable to describe him, but he had realized after losing his wife and son that he was not as cold and reserved as he'd like to believe. He missed his wife as he lived in the empty old house alone, regretting his attitude towards his son even as he knew that such behavior had caused Draco to become the man he had become. He was lonely, damn it, and he hated feeling suck weakness. He wished he'd never taken a moment to listen to Narcissa and her arguments against Voldemort, knowing he would have been much happier never feeling these emotions, continuing to be the Dark Lord's trusted follower and carry out the plans destined to give them all power instead of questioning their actions and thinking how foolish such goals were that would result in the slaughtering of so many people.
He was so caught up in his disapproval of Voldemort that he failed to hear the noise behind him. He was caught by surprise when hands grabbed him roughly and pulled him backwards. The wizard was angry with himself for being caught unaware, glaring into the face of the person that dared touch a Malfoy. He was astonished to find himself looking into the face of what appeared to be a vampire. He knew such creatures existed, but had never seen one. He kicked the vampire and got to his feet, his blue eyes flashing with anger as he reached for his wand. He muttered a few words and watched with satisfaction as the creature turned to dust. It was then that he became aware of the other vampires, eyes narrowing as he found himself surrounded by the ugly creatures. They were undead, a majority of the curses that he knew would not work on those already dead. He resolved himself to fighting, assuming that death at the hands of the vampire might at least be swifter than death at the hands of Voldemort should his Dark Lord ever learn of his traitorous thoughts. He grimaced at the idea of a Malfoy dying by vampire attack before he began to fight.
He had managed to kill two of the foul creatures before he felt a pain in his head, an arm around his neck. He tried to raise his wand only to have it knocked from his hand. Lucius struggled against his captor, finding this a very unfitting end to his life, wondering if perhaps Voldemort had deliberately sent him here for this attack, knowing that he was becoming as paranoid as the Dark Lord. He kicked at one of the vampires coming towards him, not paying any attention to their threats and words of enjoyment over killing him. His blue eyes widened as he noticed a branch rising from the ground, flying through the air and piercing the heart of one of the approaching vampires. He decided he was hallucinating, watching as another repeated the action with the remaining vampire in front of him. He stumbled backwards suddenly as the vampire holding him turned to dust. Lucius Malfoy hit the ground with a loud oomph, unable to brace his fall. He laid there for a moment looking at the stars, wondering if he was dead, when his vision was blocked by the face of an angel.
She couldn't be much older than Draco, he decided, thinking it odd to find such a lovely creature in Hell, for he was sure that was where he must be after dying. She had the face of an angel, innocent and pure, her green eyes worried as she looked at him. Lovely red hair moved from behind her shoulders as she leaned down, brushing against his cheek, so very soft. Her lips were full and curved into a concerned frown. She shouldn't be frowning, he decided, thinking how lovely her eyes would be if she was laughing. He groaned softly as he felt a pain in his back, his eyes closing as he grimaced, flashing open when he felt a warm hand on his face. She was real, his pretty little angel was real. And she was young enough to be his daughter, damn it, he scowled, feeling like a lecherous muggle for his impure thoughts after initially seeing the beautiful girl that had saved him. Wait a minute! She'd saved him! His eyes caught hers as he said, "You saved me."
She smiled then, seemingly pleased that he was aware enough to talk. She nodded, her smile shy as she said, "Yes, I did. You know, it's very dangerous to be walking around a cemetery at night."
"You saved my life," he repeated as he slowly sat up, his hand moving over his face as he cringed at the pain in his lower back.
"We've established that," she said as she stood up, offering her hand to assist him.
Lucius took it, finding it small and warm as it was engulfed by his larger, cold hand. He stood, finally looking at her more closely. It was then that he noticed it, the feeling of power that was all too familiar. While Voldemort's was drenched in evil and darkness, hers was pure and innocent, much like herself. He suddenly realized that she was the cause of the power that Voldemort had felt, the power that scared the Dark Lord enough to send someone to investigate. Lucius also realized that she was a threat, her power something good and uncorrupted. Blue eyes looked into green as he acknowledged that this girl, this little slip of an angel that was near the age of his own son, could be Voldemort's defeat.
"Are you okay?" Willow asked the man, her expression concerned. She'd been patrolling when she'd heard the scuffle, surprised to find five vampires attacking someone. She'd reacted, using the levitation spell she'd just learned and sneaking up behind the other to stake him so that the man would be freed. When she'd been able to look at him, she'd been a bit flustered to see how attractive he was, cold blue eyes that were trying to deal with the knowledge that he'd just been attacked by vampires and long blond hair that fell to his shoulders. He was gorgeous in that older guy drooling kind of way, like Giles, even having a similar accent to her mentor.
"I'm fine, thanks to you," he said softly, noticing several things. She was a muggle-born witch, seemed unfazed at seeing vampires, and had no wand. Just his luck, being saved by a muggle-born witch. He might not agree with Voldemort's plans, but that had not changed his feelings about muggles. He just didn't like the annoying creatures, believing that purebloods and muggle-borns should not associate. Now, he had found himself saved by one, a pretty redheaded angel with a sweet voice and more power than any wizard he'd ever met. He sighed as he frowned, "My life is now yours, little girl, but I fear that my life is not so deserving a reward for your heroic actions."
"Um, uh, your life?" Willow stuttered, a bit pleased that this handsome older man considered her pretty, having never heard such a compliment from anyone other than Buffy, but a bit confused about his whole life owing thing.
"A wizard's debt," he explained simply as he picked up his wand and tucked it into the pocket of his robe.
"A wizard? You're a wizard? A real wizard like Merlin or Gandalf?" Willow's eyes widened before she smiled, "That explains the robe! I wasn't sure why you were wearing it, but figured there must be a reason. We get so many weird people in Sunnydale that I figured you must be a tourist and you stumbled into the cemetery by mistake but you're really a wizard. And that was a wand, wasn't it?"
"Yes, I am a real wizard. Lucius Malfoy, at your service," he bowed slightly, amusement flashing in his eyes at her babbling that was quickly pushed away and replaced by his usual cold glare.
"I'm Willow Rosenberg," she introduced herself, "I've never met a real wizard before. Vampires and demons and gypsies and a couple of witches, but never a true wizard. You have a lot of power, but there's a darkness around you. Wait, are you a bad guy? Cause, if so, well, darn it, I thought I was saving a good guy and we've got so much to deal with right now and I hope we don't have to try to kill you because you're trying to open the Hellmouth or something like that."
"Hellmouth?" he closed his eyes, groaning, "That explains the foul stench in the air. It also explains why I'm able to sense your power. That isn't particularly common amongst my community."
"Okay, so I'm guessing you aren't here to open the Hellmouth," Willow mused with a relieved smile.
"I have no wish to do anything with the blasted Hellmouth," Lucius said, scowling at her, "But I am not what you would call a good guy. I'm a Malfoy, pureblood wizard, expert at dark arts, and not anything closely resembling a good guy."
"You say it with such distaste," Willow tried to keep the amused smile from her face as he ranted about being called a good guy. Oh yeah, this guy was definitely crush worthy, she decided. If only he was about twenty years younger, she thought ruefully before blushing. Yeah, cause she was so good at talking to guys her own age. The only reason she felt comfortable talking to this handsome stranger was because he reminded her a bit of Giles, even the lovely accent.
"And you say it with such reverence," he smirked back at her, rather enjoying himself. He owed her his life since she had saved him, a wizard's debt being something purebloods held extremely powerful. He hated being indebted to anyone, especially a muggle-born witch with pretty green eyes. His expression grew thoughtful as a cunning look entered his blue eyes. She was too young for him, clearly. He might be a bastard, but he wasn't about to seduce this innocent woman that had saved him. He liked her, though, something which surprised him. Damn it, he hated surprises, finding this evening full of enough to last him for the next twenty years at least. His initial attraction to her faded rather quickly as he slowly smiled, a plan forming in his mind.
"I like being a good guy," Willow shrugged, pointing out, "And my being one did save your life, after all."
"Ah, yes, my pretty green eyed savior," Lucius smiled at the blush that crossed her cheeks. Definitely too innocent for him, but perfect for, he said, "Concerning my wizard's debt to you, lovely Willow. As I mentioned, my life is worthless so I wish to give you my son."
Oh boy, he had a son and he was giving him to her? For a moment, she was tempted, wondering if his son was nearly as handsome and confident and powerful, all those things rather arousing to the redhead. Bad thoughts, Willow, she scolded herself, having had similar thoughts upon first meeting Giles, though she'd quickly moved past that early crush on the man that was now like a father to her. Lucius was definitely nice to look at, though, and she couldn't help wondering what his son was like. How to respond to his words, the redhead struggled to think of what to say to his offer. Her eyes widened as she stammered, "Um, Lucius, that's a kind offer, but unnecessary. Besides, I think your son might object to such a thing."
"You saved my life, Willow, for that I owe you," he leaned over and took her hand, asking, "Please accept my offer of my son as repayment for the debt."
"Well, you see, I wouldn't really know what to do with your son so I think you should just keep him and I'll accept your thanks as payment," Willow said, already wishing that Buffy was in town instead of who knew where so she could share the events of this freaky evening with someone that wouldn't think she was crazy.
"May I train you in the ways of magic, then?" Lucius asked crossly, annoyed that she refused to accept Draco as repayment for his debt. It would have been ideal, giving him a chance to remove Draco from Hogwarts and send him away so that he would not be in danger, this redhead having enough power to shield and protect his son. She was also beautiful, for a muggle-born, and Lucius would not have been at all upset if his son found her to be lovely, deciding that he could have overlooked her lack of pureblood status if she were to become part of his family. Besides, Draco had chosen to fight for muggles, it was only fitting that he be given to one, Lucius aware that his son was as fond of muggles as himself, which wasn't very. It would be a bit of a punishment for choosing the side of good and forcing his father into traitorous thoughts concerning the Dark Lord, and a bit of a reward for being intelligent and brave because Willow was clearly talented and beautiful, making a fine wife for his son. Trust the silly muggle-born witch to ruin his plans by refusing his generous offer. He scowled at her, hoping that she would, at least, accept his offer to train her.
"You want to train me?" she was shocked at his words, a small smile crossing her lips, "I'd love to learn the proper way to use magic. I've been reading a lot of books but no one has really shown me anything since Jenny died. She was a technopagan and a gypsy, so her magic was a little different."
"You have tremendous power, Willow, and it is being wasted by levitating sticks in the cemetery," Lucius said dismissively, his words sincere as he continued, "I would like to train you in our ways, assist you in learning to control your gift."
"You said you were a bad guy," Willow said softly, "that you were into dark magic and stuff like that. I don't want to use my power for darkness."
"I am a bad guy," Lucius said simply, "but you can trust me to teach you everything you need to know to continue fighting for the good guys. God, a Malfoy actually assisting a good guy. I believe Hell must have just frozen over."
Willow couldn't help giggling, "You know, this has to be one of the weirdest nights of my life. And I've had many a strange evening, let me tell you. But, I trust you for some reason. I agree to your offer, Lucius Malfoy."
"There will be rules, of course. I live in England and have obligations that restrict my movements. I will meet with you whenever I am able. You will not perform any spells that draw undue attention to your power. There are some people out there that are far more evil than I who would consider you a threat and have no qualms of ending your life. You will pay attention and learn what I teach you," Lucius said, his tone warning. He would not take such a risk to find himself with an inattentive student who had no wish to listen to him.
"Okay," Willow said, finding it a little odd that he'd be willing to travel all the way from England just to teach her about magic and finding herself a bit scared by his warning about darker evil coming after her if she wasn't careful.
"Good, that is settled," Lucius smirked as he removed the ring from his left hand, his thumb moving over the dragon before he placed it in Willow's palm. He had accepted her refusal to have Draco as repayment, deciding that this alternative was much better because he could teach her how to control her gift and prepare her to defeat the Dark Lord if necessary, but he had not forgotten his belief that she would be a good addition to his family. Much better than those annoying pureblood girls that went to Hogwarts, lacking power and dignity and intelligence and true beauty and any kind of morals. Oh God, he was praising someone for their morals! He would be checked into St. Mungo's if anyone discovered his fascination with this pretty mudblood witch. He closed her fingers around Draco's ring before stepping back.
"Lucius, I don't need a ring to know you'll keep up your end of the bargain," Willow said softly, looking at the ring and seeing a lovely dragon with emerald eyes, her finger tracing over the dragon as a calm feeling spread throughout her.
"Humor me, Willow," he said with a roll of his eyes, thinking that she could try the patience of a saint with her questions and arguing. She would be a good match for Draco, a smug smile crossing his handsome face as he said, "We shall begin training next week. I will send you a variety of books when I return home. Begin reading them to prepare for my visit."
"Okay," she agreed as she slid the ring on to her thumb, deciding that she'd get a nice silver chain so she could wear it around her neck. She told him her address when he asked, watching him nod as he committed it to memory.
"Good night, sweet angel," Lucius told her as he chastely kissed her hand before turning and disappearing into the night.
Willow watched him leave and smiled, her finger moving over the dragon on her ring as she turned and walked home, pleased that she was going to receive personal training from a powerful wizard, even one professing his bad guy status and interest in the dark arts. Maybe she'd know a few spells by the time Buffy came home, her smile fading as she wondered if her friend would ever return home.
Lucius used his portkey to return to the Manor, a content smile on his face. He had found a match for Draco, a way to defeat Voldemort should the occasion arise, and a new student to train that amused him in a way that none did. Narcissa would be pleased at his decision, he decided, the smile fading from his face as his blue eyes grew reserved and cold as he went to report to Voldemort. He told the Dark Lord that he had not discovered any source of great power in that annoying American town, mentioning that it was a Hellmouth and that could account for the feeling of power. Voldemort was pleased to learn that there was no threat to him, praising Lucius for his successful trip before sending his loyal follower away. Lucius left, his cold blue eyes flashing with hatred as he walked away from the wizard that he had once devoted his life to. Willow had not only saved his life that evening, she had unknowingly helped him choose the next path in his life.
A little over a year
Lucius Malfoy walked into the large dining room, his blue eyes sweeping over the empty room before settling on Voldemort. He bowed slightly, "Good evening, my Lord."
"Good evening, Lucius. Come, sit beside me," Voldemort instructed, watching as the blond wizard sat down. He noticed the parchment in Lucius' hand, arching a brow as he asked, "What do you have there? Is that the reason that you wished to meet with me?"
"Yes, my Lord. I received it by owl this afternoon," Lucius said as his lips twisted into a smirk, "It is all rather amusing and I almost did not bother you with the matter, but I felt you should see it."
Voldemort took the parchment from Lucius, his eyes reading over the words. He looked back at Lucius, his expression thoughtful as he said, "This is not what I expected at all, Lucius. Dumbledore has offered you a position at Hogwarts. This is rather surprising."
"It would appear that way, my Lord," Lucius said smoothly, "I will be sending him a rather appropriate response tomorrow explaining exactly what he can do with his offer. Further proof that the crazy old wizard is going senile. The entire idea is absurd! Me, a Malfoy, teaching at that horrid place."
"It is actually an interesting idea," Voldemort replied, already wondering how it could work in his favor.
"He is suspicious of my loyalty to you, my Lord, and is merely using this offer as a ploy so that he can keep me under his direct supervision. It was a pathetic plan," Lucius said with a sneer, "One that I easily saw through, my Lord."
"But it is an intriguing plan, my dear Lucius," Voldemort said thoughtfully, knowing that Lucius was correct in his assumption that the offer must be a way of allowing the ministry and their followers a means of keep him under watch. He slowly smiled, "Have you never heard the saying, keep your friends close but your enemies closer?"
"Yes, my Lord, but I am surprised that they would be desperate enough to make me such an offer," Lucius said as he leaned back in his chair, his face emotionless, his eyes cold and angry.
"They are scared, it would seem," Voldemort said with delight in his voice, "wishing to keep my most loyal follower under surveillance. It is an act of desperation, which greatly pleases me. As does the idea of you being in such a position."
"Is that not why we have Severus?" Lucius asked dryly, seeing the jubilant gleam in Voldemort's eyes and resisting the urge to roll his own. Most loyal follower? That statement had not been true for thirteen months, if not longer.
"Ah, Severus, yes, he is at Hogwarts to gain information, but I do not trust him as I trust you, Lucius," Voldemort said. "I think you should accept the offer, allow them to believe they have you fooled while all along gathering information and keeping an eye on that Potter brat."
"I think not," Lucius said sharply, "I am a Malfoy. I will not lower myself to teaching a class to worthless students nor will I allow those fools to believe they have successfully deceived me."
"You will do as I say," Voldemort said quietly, studying Lucius as he watched with satisfaction as the powerful pureblood wizard eventually looked away.
"Yes, my Lord," Lucius agreed as he took the letter back from Voldemort, folded it and placed it in the pocket of his robe. "Tomorrow I shall owl that fool Dumbledore and gladly accept his offer of DADA Professor this term, if that is what you wish."
"It is, Lucius," Voldemort smiled, "and you shall become my eyes and ears at that school, keeping a close eye on Potter and evaluating the level of desperation that would cause them to make such a risky move in our little game."
"Tomorrow I will make the arrangements for my new," Lucius paused as his lips curled into a grimace, "job."
"Very good," Voldemort nodded, pleased at this surprising turn of events. He smiled, "You are dismissed, Lucius."
"Thank you, my Lord," Lucius said as he turned and walked away, his face perfectly controlled to show no emotion even as he was thrilled that Voldemort had taken the bait so easily. He'd not even had to say a word, merely show that he thought the idea was ludicrous, make a comment regarding the desperation of the ministry, and now he had been ordered by the Dark Lord to accept the professor position at Hogwarts. It couldn't have worked out better if he'd planned it. Oh wait, his lips twisted into a smug smile once he was free of Voldemort's presence, he had.
"I can't believe you're leaving."
"Buffy, quit acting like you're never going to see me again!"
"Fine, I won't miss you then!"
"Pouting does not become you, slayer."
Buffy sighed and looked at the redhead who was currently packing, "I knew you'd leave me eventually, I just never thought it would be all the way across the world. Britain is so far away and I can't imagine my life without my Wills!"
"I'm going to miss you, too," Willow smiled at the blond slayer, "but we can write letters and visit whenever possible."
"That reminds me! You have to remind me to thank tall, blond and sexy for that port thingy when he gets here," Buffy smiled, "I'm so going to wear that damn thing out, coming to visit you!"
"I am so telling Lucius that you think he's sexy," Willow teased as Buffy stuck her tongue out at her.
"He is sexy! Those eyes and that hair and that voice and those hands. If I were twenty years older, I'd so go for him!" Buffy laughed, a speculative smile crossing her face as she said, "I wonder if his son is that gorgeous."
"I'll let you know once I meet him," Willow promised, her green eyes shining with amusement as she listened to Buffy laugh.
"Oh, that's right! He's going to be a student there, isn't he? Wow, that's cool. You finally get to meet your intended," Buffy snickered, watching her best friend blush.
"Stop that! I should never have told you about that!" Willow muttered, rolling her eyes as Buffy just giggled. She'd told Buffy everything about her first meeting with Lucius when the slayer returned to Sunnydale the previous September, having to explain why there was a good looking, older blond guy appearing at her house every few days and teaching her magic. Buffy had taken everything in stride, thrilled that Willow had the chance to study with a real wizard, but she'd never stopped teasing Willow about being offered Lucius' son during their first meeting. It didn't help that Lucius, himself, was always making random comments about how well she and Draco would get along.
"Please! You know you're dying to meet Mini-Lucius!" Buffy smiled knowingly. "You know from the very old photos that Lu has that the kid is blond and has those amazing gray eyes. Hopefully, he's taller now and doesn't slick back the hair cause that's not the most attractive thing in the world. Hell, I can't wait to see him and I'm not the one that he belongs to!"
"Buffy!" Willow laughed as she sat beside Buffy and hugged her best friend, "I'm going to miss you so much!"
"Stop it or you might make me cry!" Buffy sniffled as she gave her best friend a big hug. "Xander already cried enough for all of us!"
"I know. He made me cry!" Willow smiled, "I'm going to miss both of you! You'll have to take care of Xander, now that I won't be here to keep an eye on him. Make sure he eats some healthy food amongst all the junk food. I'm going to try to visit when I can, but Lucius thinks we're going to be pretty busy with this class and he's counting on me to be the best assistant this school has ever seen and there's all the trouble with that Voldemort guy so I figure things are going to be pretty hectic."
"If that Voldy creep gets mean, just let me know and I'll come over and slay his ass for hurting my best friend," Buffy promised, tightening her hold on her best friend. She couldn't believe that this time tomorrow, Willow would be in England preparing to become a teacher, well assistant to a teacher but it was the same thing to the slayer, while she would be planning what courses to take for her first year of college. She hated losing Willow, but she knew this was a wonderful opportunity for her best friend and wasn't selfish enough to ask the redhead to stay. Besides, she had that wizard port thing that would let her visit Willow often, and she also knew that Lucius needed her best friend. That, in itself, worried her more than Willow just going to teach at this Wartshog place. The blond wizard had been playing a dangerous game with the whole spy thing since she'd met him and she hated the idea of Willow becoming involved in something that dangerous. The irony wasn't lost on her, since every day on the Hellmouth was dangerous, but Buffy was there to protect the redhead, though Willow no longer needed much protecting. Her magic had improved steadily under Lucius' training, the powerful wizard being a good teacher and visiting often. Buffy liked Lucius, even if he snarled a lot, because she could see that he cared about Willow. He smiled like a proud father whenever her best friend successfully mastered a new trick or spell, plus he seemed intent on hooking the redhead up with his cute son, which made Buffy realize how fond he was of her best friend. That meant he'd do whatever it took to keep Willow safe, and, for that, Buffy had to like him.
"You can't kill him, Buff, but maybe you can help that Potter kid do it," Willow smiled, a bit nervous about going to this school of wizards and helping Lucius, knowing that he was in a precarious situation and that the wrong action on her part might get him killed. He was still playing the loyal follower of Voldemort, but he'd been passing along information to this Dumbledore guy for nearly a year now, working against the Dark Lord. Luckily, Dumbledore was the only one aware of Lucius' betrayal besides her and Buffy, Xander and Giles not even aware of the extent of evil goings on in the wizarding community. He had trusted her because she was his only real friend, his student, and his protégée. He had trusted Buffy because she was the slayer and strong in her own right and Willow's best friend.
"I want to meet him, too," Buffy smiled as she thought of the young wizard Lucius had mentioned. Of course, Lucius was not a fan so he tended to concentrate on his lack of faith in this kid managing to defeat the Voldemort creep alone, hence his justification for becoming a reluctant good guy. She knew that he planned on having Willow assist Potter when the time came, the redhead having told her one of the reasons she was becoming Lucius' new assistant. She trusted Willow and knew that the redhead could take care of herself, but she still wanted to meet this Potter guy and find out if he deserved Willow's support and could help keep her best friend safe. She told Willow, "I know what it's like being the only one that can defend the world, though I'm much worse off because I have to fight all sorts of demons and vampires and he's just got to fight one bastard of a wizard."
"But you've got Faith to help now," Willow pointed out, "and she's going to be the reason you're able to come visit whenever you've got time between slaying and classes."
"Fine, remind me that I now share the burden with someone else. It kind of ruins my big self-sacrificing speech, ya know, Will?" Buffy smiled, relieved that Faith had arrived in Sunnydale months ago and had settled in easily, helping them defeat the Mayor and becoming a pretty good friend along the way.
"Good one, slayer, but I don't buy it. You know you're thrilled to have Faith around to help out. Besides, we all know you're selfish!" Willow laughed as Buffy playfully slapped her arm.
"And here I was all proud of myself for not breaking down into tears and begging you to stay here with us!" Buffy smiled affectionately at her best friend.
"I am very proud of you, Buffy. Now quit whining and help me finish packing," Willow laughed, "Lucius will be here soon and you know how cranky the old man gets when he has to wait."
Willow looked at the two suitcases that were sitting by her stairs. Everything she was taking for the second chapter in her life had fit into two suitcases and a book bag. In a way, it was almost sad, but she was leaving several boxes of possessions in Buffy's garage so it wasn't nearly as awful as it might seem. She wasn't taking a large amount of clothes, not needing too many things because Lucius told her she'd be required to robes a majority of the time at Hogwarts, so she'd mostly taken comfortable clothes to wear underneath her new robes. Buffy had insisted she take a few nicer skirts and tops plus a dress she'd never worn, just in case there was a special occasion. Her best friend had always said that she could bring her any items she might need once she arrived at the school and realized she'd forgotten something, so Willow had been able to pack lightly. She was just feeling a bit melancholy now that it was nearly time for her to leave. She was going to miss her friends, the only real family she'd had, and it was just now starting to sink in that she was about to embark on a future that was practically unbelievable.
It had been about a year since she'd saved Lucius Malfoy in the cemetery, a year since he'd begun to visit weekly to train her. During that time, they'd formed a close relationship and she considered him one of her closest friends, despite their age difference. He was her mentor, her teacher, and had, to be completely honest, surpassed Giles as being a surrogate parent for her. He had shared aspects of his life, his past, that she knew he'd never told anyone else, proud that he trusted her with such information. He'd been right when they first met when he said he wasn't a good guy. He'd done some terrible things in his life, had not appreciated his family until he'd lost them, been so ambitious and power driven that he'd nearly destroyed himself, and was a right old bastard in a lot of ways even now. He was intelligent enough to realize that his Dark Lord was not someone to follow blindly, and she was proud of him for trying to do the right thing. She worried about him, his spying on Voldemort for Dumbledore, and now this newest plan of his, which was rather dangerous in a variety of aspects.
He was going to teach at Hogwarts under the assumption that he was spying for Voldemort and that the Ministry was keeping him under supervision, when, in actuality, he was using the opportunity not only to get away from Voldemort but to bring her into his world, preparing her for the fight he was confident would be coming before the end of the school term. She would now be in a position in which to use her power, a force very strong and pure according to Lucius, to aid Harry Potter and the others in their fight against Voldemort. Lucius believed that she was needed, having spent a year training her and helping her control her natural skill because he knew she was important to the War that was brewing in his world.
She knew that he had suggested the idea of training her for that reason, completely selfish and a means to prevail against the Dark Lord he had followed without reservation for so many years and now hated. She didn't mind, having enjoyed the training and knowing that she would have never tapped into her power without him. Or, if she had, she feared that she'd have never been able to control it or learn what she needed to use her gift for good. During their training together, things had changed, though. He'd begun to smile occasionally, seemed to enjoy spending time with her and her friends, was more relaxed than he'd originally been, and he'd started to treat her like a daughter. She liked it, having envied the paternal relationship between Buffy and Giles, and feeling as if Lucius was taking over that role in her life.
She knew that the other important reason he had thought of this plan was to see his son. He seemed proud that Draco had made the right choice, but she could see the regret in his blue eyes when he spoke of his son. He hadn't seen Draco since the boy had made his decision following his mother's funeral and returned to school, and she knew he must miss his son. True, he had never been a good father, that being a complete understatement to the way he'd treated his son, but she couldn't help thinking that he was trying to make up for his behavior by treating her the way that he did. Of course, that didn't prevent the silly man from teasing her about his son and her, seemingly convinced that they would be a perfect match even though they'd never met.
Lucky for her that arranged marriages were a thing of the past or she feared she'd find herself married before she even realized it had happened. Lucius was a sneaky man, devious and cunning, especially when it came to matters of getting what he wanted. And he seemed to want her in his family, as his daughter, which just amused her in some ways at the same time it pleased her that he thought that highly of her. She knew he wasn't fond of muggles or muggle-born witches, which is what she learned early on was what she was by having been born to non-magical parents, and it meant a lot that she had his respect and admiration.
Her affection for Lucius and love of magic still didn't stop her from wondering if she was making the right choice. She was worried that she'd be horrible at this assisting the professor thing and she didn't want to disappoint Lucius. She was also a bit concerned about going into this world she'd only heard about and finding herself thrust into the middle of a conspiracy to deceive the Dark Lord and having to keep the truth secret while also being in the midst of the sneaky plan Lucius had dreamed up. It was all just a bit stressful, and it hadn't even started yet. She had already learned the proper shields to use to keep the full extent of her power, Lucius' theory that it was increased by living on the Hellmouth, hidden from everyone until she was forced to use it. Lucius did not want Voldemort to learn of her as anything other than an American witch that Dumbledore had given a job to, planning to use her muggle-born status as a means to further make himself a victim of the Ministry's plot to make his life hell whenever he had his meetings with Voldemort. She was worried but not scared. She'd faced far more dangerous things, not dismissing Voldemort's threat but knowing that he paled in comparison to Wilkins or even Angelus.
She was also, to be honest, excited. She was looking forward to going to this place she'd heard about for the last year, liking the fact that she'd be a teacher in some ways, and the danger was something she was accustomed to. Following Wilkins' death at graduation, Sunnydale was a bit boring. The power of the Hellmouth had been greatly diminished from the repeated number of small spells she'd used to help defeat the mayor, not wanting to use anything too powerful for fear of drawing Voldemort's attention, and the Hellmouth was pretty well dead. It was inactive now, the council having sent word that Faith should be sent to an active Hellmouth to which the brunette slayer had sent a two-word reply telling them to fuck off. Needless to say, the council had obviously activated someone because they did not hear anything else from them. Buffy and Faith still had their power, but it turned out that the big myth of only one slayer blah blah blah was a bit of a falsehood. There were always slayers training, and the next in line could be activated under extenuating circumstances. Two current slayers refusing to be controlled by the council apparently qualified as an exception to the rules. A smile crossed her face as she thought about Buffy and Faith, knowing she was going to miss her best friend and new friend. And Xander. Oh God, she was going to be leaving her Xander, her best friend since they were six. She had to be strong, knowing that she would see them often and that it wasn't nearly that bad because she and Buffy had portkeys which would allow them frequent visits. She blinked away the tears, concentrating on the excitement of what waited for her instead of the missage of her best friends.
She was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of cursing behind her. She smiled as she turned to face Lucius, arching a brow as she took in his aggravated expression, "Having problems, Pops?"
"Poor landing. And why do you insist on calling me by that dreaded nickname, Willow?" Lucius asked dryly as he glared at her, an affectionate smile crossing his face.
"Because you hate it," Willow laughed as she moved to give him a hug.
"It sounds ridiculous," Lucius muttered as he hugged her briefly before moving back, "I am not an elderly white haired gentleman for which the name would be more than appropriate."
"You're not going to convince me to stop using it so don't waste your breath, old man," Willow giggled as his eyes narrowed.
"Pops? Old man? I choose to believe that forty is not, how do you muggles say it, over the hill?" Lucius grumbled good-naturedly. He'd missed Willow, the redhead being the one bright spot in his life during the last year. He had come to love her as a daughter, even tolerating her muggle friends because they so obviously loved her.
"You're only thirty-nine which isn't quite the age for retirement," Willow reluctantly agreed, her green eyes twinkling as she added, "yet!"
"Very funny, little girl," he snorted, moving to look around the empty house. "Have your useless little muggle friends already left? I assumed they'd be laying in the floor in tears at you're leaving, which is only fitting since they are lucky that one such as yourself would lower yourself to befriending them."
"Wow! I can see your brain when your nose is that high in the air!" Willow rolled her eyes, smacking him on the arm, "They've already come and said good-bye and there were tears. And Buffy wanted me to thank you for the portkey. Oh, and quit being mean to my friends!"
"I am very polite whenever they are around," Lucius pointed out, "and the slayer should be thankful for my gift. If she were not a slayer and so very important to you, I shant have bothered going to such trouble. Are you ready to go?"
"Yes, I think I'm ready. I've left a message for my parents' letting them know they can finally sell the house, which should delight them since they hate this town. Joyce is letting me use their garage to store the stuff I don't want to take with me right now. All the utilities are being turned off tomorrow. Buffy and Xander are coming by to finalize all that for me. I don't think I forgot anything. I have everything packed and I guess I'm ready to go," Willow said as she ran through a mental checklist.
"We will be going directly to Hogwarts. Dumbledore has quarters prepared for us and is expecting us. He's very eager to meet you, my dear, but be warned that he's a bit of a crazy old man," Lucius said, not very fond of the Headmaster despite his assistance these last months.
"I have a bag full of muggle candy for him, since you said he loves sweets," Willow smiled as she moved to pick up her purse and laptop case. She'd been shocked when she found out that Hogwarts didn't have electricity in a normal way, not sure how she'd survive without being able to relax in front of a movie or television, but she'd figured out a solution by purchasing extra batteries for her laptop and giving one to Buffy to charge and bring to her during visits to exchange for the ones that will most likely need charged by that time.
She had brought along her favorite movies on DVD that would play easily enough on her laptop, but she'd also learned a spell that would allow her to cast the image from her laptop to a wall which would be almost like having her personal movie theatre in some ways. She smiled as Lucius took her suitcases, slapping her hand away from the book bag she was taking, sliding it over his shoulder as he began to move towards the portkey. She was taking some of her favorite books, and Giles was going to send her the box that contained her research books and the demon texts she'd purchased since meeting Buffy so that she and Lucius could use them in class.
"He'll be besotted for the rest of term if you give him a bag of sweets," Lucius drawled as he looked at her and asked, "is this everything?"
"Yes. Giles is sending me a box of books and I put in some of my other movies in that box for shipping purposes. You did say I wouldn't need a lot of clothes, right?" Willow got worried, wondering if she'd packed too lightly.
"If you need anything else, we can buy it, if necessary. Tomorrow, we are going to Hogsmeade to purchase your robes, a wand, and any other items you might need," Lucius informed her. "I honestly am not sure what you will need, but I am sure that this is adequate."
"We're going shopping tomorrow?" Willow asked, her lips twisting into an amused smile, "You're going shopping? For robes?"
"You find that humorous?" he asked with a smirk.
"Have you ever been shopping before?" she asked with a curious smile, "You don't really strike me as a shopping kinda guy."
"I took Draco shopping every year prior to the start of term," Lucius said quietly, his eyes flashing slightly before he smiled at her, "and now I shall take you, my dear, so that you are properly prepared to be my assistant. I can not have my assistant wearing shabby robes and not having a wand now can I?"
"Of course not," Willow agreed with a roll of her eyes before she took one last look around her old house. She sighed softly before she looked at him, smiling as she moved to take his hand, "Let's go, Pops. I'm ready."
"That was real fun," Willow said dryly as she and Lucius exited the portkey and she found herself standing outside in the dark. "Where are we?"
"The gates outside Hogwarts," Lucius explained, "do you feel okay?"
"Fine, the nausea passed after we started moving," Willow smiled sheepishly, "guess I'm more of a plane, train, automobile traveler, huh? This magical travel is a bit queasy like."
"Once you are accustomed, it is effortless and will produce no side effects," Lucius said, "you handled it well for your first time."
"Thanks, Pops," Willow grinned at him before looking around, "so we're at the gates outside the school. Where's the school?"
"This is a side gate, so that we are not seen arriving," Lucius said as he moved from the tree where they had landed towards the stone wall that surrounded the castle. "The school is empty at the moment except for Dumbledore and the house elves, but I did not dare arrive at the front gates in case someone happened to be around that should not see us arrive together."
"Makes sense," Willow nodded, "though haven't you said before that Hogwarts is at the edge of nothing and that no one with any sense would ever willingly travel to its location unless it was school related business?"
"Have I mentioned how annoying your ability to recall random conversations can be?" Lucius asked with an arched brow that she was not able to see because it was much too dark.
"You don't say that when I'm reciting lessons," Willow smirked before saying, "okay, this place is too dark! I know it's really late over here, or early I guess depending on how you're looking at it, but I can't even get the sneer from you over my rather Lucius-like smirk!"
"I shall take care of that," Lucius said as he removed his wand and said a word, turning the tip of his wand into a candle, "Better?"
"Yes," Willow smirked, receiving his sneer before she laughed, causing him to smile. She followed him to a small gate, watching as he removed a key from his pocket and unlocked the gate. "Impressive! Must be nice having friends in high places."
"Dumbledore is not a friend," Lucius corrected, "he is merely the only leader of the resistance to Voldemort that I find somewhat knowledgeable that can be of assistance to my plans. In actuality, he's a crazy old bat who can get rather annoying if too much time is spent in his presence."
"Got it," Willow smiled slightly, "Dumbledore is not a friend. So, Lucius, do you have any friends? I mean, besides me?"
"No," he said simply, giving her a smug smile, "so you should feel quite lucky that I have chosen to allow you to become my friend. Imagine, a muggle-born American witch being friends with a powerful pureblood wizard? Things such as that do not happen in this world, Willow, so you are most decidedly special."
"I know that already," Willow said, "and it's you who should consider yourself lucky that a powerful muggle-born American witch with my intelligence and loyalty has allowed you into her life."
"I am aware that I am quite lucky that you decided to raise your standards in choosing friends by allowing me a place in that category, Willow," Lucius agreed, smiling affectionately at the redhead.
"Pompous ass," Willow giggled, noticing how he managed to off-handedly insult her other friends in such a subtle manner.
"Merely being honest," Lucius smirked as he walked her towards the front of Hogwarts. He watched her eyes widen as the castle came into view.
"That's a castle!" Willow said excitedly, her green eyes wide as she stared at the ancient building that housed Hogwarts.
"Very observant," Lucius said dryly as they neared the entrance to the school. "I am ever so proud of your cognitive skills."
"I am so going to ignore your cheesy insults because that's a freaking castle!" Willow said as she realized that she was actually bouncing. "It's a real castle, Lucius! And it's going to be my new home! This is just so damn cool!"
"If you are this easily impressed with a large pile of stone, I fear to see your reaction to the treasures waiting inside," Lucius chuckled softly as they reached the front door. He used his key borrowed from Dumbledore and opened the door, "After you, Willow. Welcome to your new home."
"Oh my God. Lucius, this place is just unbelievable," Willow said in awe as she looked around the castle that housed Hogwarts. She turned in a full circle, not wanting to miss a single detail.
"If you're fond of drafty, cold, ancient ruins that should have fallen centuries ago, I suppose one might describe it as unbelievable," Lucius said dryly, his lips curved into a faint smile as he watched Willow's reaction to seeing the inside of Hogwarts for the first time. He assumed he must have had a similar reaction many decades ago when he's first arrived as a student, but he couldn't recall being overly impressed. Of course, even at ten, his Father had taught him that emotion was weakness and that such displays were for common people, not the Malfoys. He could display hatred, contempt, arrogance, and amusement without earning his Father's disapproval. Any other emotion would earn him hours of hexing, meant to toughen him up and insure that he was strong enough to be a Malfoy. His own Father had not even been a follower of the Dark Arts, coming instead from a strict lineage that frowned upon weakness. He was diverted from his dark memories by Willow's smile, his eyes softening as he looked at the pretty redhead that had become a bit like a daughter to him over the last year. He finally had light in his life, warmth and affection, and he could not recall ever being even slightly happy until he had been saved by this muggle-born witch. He was not yet truly happy, would not be until Voldemort was dead and, perhaps, he had Draco back in his life, but it was a good start.
"I like old things," Willow said with a slight smirk, "After all, you are one of my dearest friends."
"Very cute, Willow," he said sarcastically.
"I try," she laughed before looking back at the castle. "Seriously, Lu, this place is amazing!"
"My name is Lucius. Why you and that daft slayer can not grasp every syllable of my name, I can't quite understand," Lucius muttered, rather fond of the nickname he had been given, preferring it to Old Man and Pops and any number of names he had been called during his years as a Death Eater. Lu was much more affectionate than evil, sadistic bastard.
"Grumble grumble grumble," Willow smiled fondly at the blond wizard, "I can't believe this is really a school! I mean, can you imagine taking classes in a castle? A real castle that has been around for centuries. If the walls could talk, can you imagine what they'd say? It's fantastic!"
"Yes, we've already established your enthusiasm for the drafty old place," Lucius smirked, "Can we please stop with the overuse of adjectives now?"
"You're just jealous because your *pureblood* mind isn't as agile and intelligent as my muggle mind," Willow teased, watching him roll his eyes.
"A Malfoy is never jealous, Willow, especially not of a silly muggle-born teenager," Lucius rolled his eyes.
"Ha! You didn't deny that you're not as smart as I am," Willow smirked triumphantly, "Man, you're so easy, Lucius! All I have to do is insult the pureblood Malfoy name and you ignore any other insults!"
"I believe she has you there, Lucius," an amused voice spoke from a doorway, twinkling eyes watching the interaction between the blond wizard and the redheaded witch. If anyone had ever told him that Lucius Malfoy, loyal minion of Voldemort, would one day not only be spying on his Dark Lord, but standing in the entry way of Hogwarts good-naturedly teasing a teenage muggle born witch, Dumbledore would have requested a visit to St. Mungo's for the individual. The Headmaster could not deny what he was seeing, though, finding Lucius' behavior amusing.
"You must be Dumbledore," Willow smiled at the elderly man, "Now you look like a real wizard, with the robes and long white hair and that beard! Not like Mr. Cranky Pureblood over there. It's nice to meet you, sir. I'm Willow Rosenberg."
"I am not cranky," Lucius glared at the redhead before turning the glare towards Dumbledore, "And she does not have me, as you so eloquently suggest. I was merely defending the Malfoy name before I chose to defend my intelligence."
"Sure you were," Willow smiled at him as she hugged him, "It's okay, Lu. We both know that I'm smarter than you."
"Infuriating child," Lucius muttered before he suddenly smirked, "You seem to forget that I have the years of experience and intelligence that you are lacking, my dear."
"Not a good argument, Lucius. I'm already this intelligent at eighteen, imagine how much smarter I'll be when I'm as old as you are," Willow pointed out with a large smile. "And, hey, you're the one that told me I was one of the most intelligent people you'd ever met so it's your fault I'm all arrogant and such."
"You're only arrogant when it suits you," Lucius mentioned, "Otherwise, you're a mess of insecurities and doubt. It is my duty as your adviser and teacher to rid you of those dreaded insecurities and give you confidence in your abilities and intelligence."
"It must be working," Willow smiled affectionately at him before turning her attention to an amused Dumbledore. "This castle is fantastic, Dumbledore. Lucius failed to mention that the school was in an old castle, so I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived. I love history and can practically feel it alive in this place."
"My dear, I could tell you many stories about this castle," Albus smiled at the pretty redhead that it would appear Lucius had adopted, in a way. He was understanding now the relationship between these two, seeing the warm interaction that he had witnessed between parents and their children many a time during his years at Hogwarts. Lucius considered this girl his protégé, as he'd mentioned during his discussion of his plan to get her to the school, but he also seemed to consider her a bit like a daughter. It was rather sad that he had never treated his own son in such a way, too intent on his loyalty to Voldemort to show any type of affection for the poor boy. Draco Malfoy had surprised Albus, nearly as much as his father had by turning on Voldemort, and had proven himself to be brave, intelligent, and strong. His eyes began to twinkle as he imagined Draco's reaction to finding his Father teaching the DADA class, wondering if there was a second chance in the future for father and son. His eyes moved to look at the smiling redhead, the twinkle growing more pronounced as he slowed smiled. Perhaps he was now looking at the second chance, muttering to himself as he found himself seeing random images, each confirming his belief that Willow would be responsible for giving the Malfoys a second chance at a relationship. Yes, this would be quite an interesting year, the old wizard decided as he popped a lemon drop into his mouth, very entertaining and very significant.
"Perhaps at another time?" Lucius said smoothly. "It is rather late and Willow has had a busy day. If you could show us to our rooms, I'd greatly appreciate it. She needs to unpack and rest, perhaps have something to eat. Tomorrow is going to be hectic and I want her well-rested."
"We're going shopping tomorrow," Willow smiled at Dumbledore, "Robes and a wand and a bunch of other things that Lucius insist I have. I would love to hear your stories, though."
"Of course," Albus nodded as he pulled himself from his thoughts, his smile still amused as he led them upstairs, "Follow me and I'll show you to your quarters. I'll also arrange for the house elves to prepare you something to eat. I have given you rooms on the third floor, in a position in which I could monitor your activities if I so chose. I assumed that would be expected by the Dark Lord since he is under the assumption that you are here to be watched carefully."
"Excellent," Lucius nodded, "I do not wish to cause any suspicion in Voldemort. I have plans to explain Willow's presence as another attempt by you and the Ministry to cause me stress, since she is not only American but muggle-born. I am admittedly a bit concerned about others perception of my relationship with her, since we have known each other for a year and I do feel at times as if she is my child in some ways."
"You do?" Willow beamed at his words, "It will be okay, Lucius. If he asks about me, you can just tell him that you're only being kind to me as a way to protect your true intentions from Dumbledore, that you're using me to gain information that you might not have access to by being who you are. I doubt he'd mind at all if you were using a muggle-born witch and it would explain why we might be perceived as friendly."
"That is an inspired idea," Dumbledore declared, "It is truly cunning and worthy of a Malfoy and I see no reason why it would be disbelieved by the Dark Lord."
"I told you she was smart," Lucius said with a pleased smile. "I can lead him to believe that I am using you to gain access to the Potter brat, you being in position to befriend the annoying whelp and such."
"This is your room," Albus pointed at the painting of a scowling wizard standing beside a willow tree. "I must confess that I could not resist selecting it as your door when I saw the willow tree."
"That's sweet," Willow smiled, "Look, Lucius. The wizard scowls nearly as well as you do!"
"I shall go downstairs to the kitchen and have some food prepared for you," Albus said before Lucius could reply to Willow's comment.
"Thank you, Headmaster," Willow told him, not all surprised when Lucius deliberately scowled at her, laughing as she smacked his arm. "How do we get into our room, Pops?"
"What's your password?" the wizard in the painting questioned rudely before Lucius could explain how things at Hogwarts worked, startling Willow and causing her to smile even wider when she realized the portrait could speak.
"Hellmouth," Lucius replied, knowing that was a word that he and Willow would be able to remember easily.
"Good choice," Willow said as she entered the room once the portrait swung open and stepped into her new quarters, Lucius following her into the room.
Willow couldn't believe the size of the sitting area. It was as big as Buffy's living room and had the most comfortable looking furniture. There was a large fireplace and bookcases that were nearly overflowing with books. She'd died and gone to heaven, she decided. A good book, a comfy sofa, and a fireplace. She heard Lucius snicker behind her, rolling her eyes at his finding amusement in her reaction to this unbelievable castle and the rooms within.
"Well?" Lucius asked, arching a brow as he watched the redhead look around the room.
Willow looked at him, shrugging as she said, "I guess it's okay."
"Brat," Lucius muttered, knowing all too well that she was practically bouncing in enthusiasm for the sitting area of their suite.
"What? Did you think I'd be impressed?" she asked smugly, "Just because it's larger than my living room and has so many wonderful books and that comfy looking sofa and that huge fireplace. Please, Lucius. It takes far more to impress me."
"Fine, I promise not to laugh at you for showing your enjoyment of your new home," Lucius finally relented, watching her smile triumphantly.
"It's fantastic!" Willow smiled as she moved around the room, "I've never seen so many books outside a library. And they're all about magic and history!"
"I have more books in my study at home," Lucius informed her loftily, enjoying her reaction to the room. It was entertaining to view Hogwarts through fresh, youthful eyes. He looked around and saw a rather adequate, but not extremely large, room with inexpensive furnishings and an a lot of old books that were not even properly categorized.
"Of course you do. You're a Malfoy," Willow said, stressing his last name and smirking at him. "Perhaps for your birthday I'll buy you one of those buttons that records audio so you can just push the button constantly and let everyone know that you're a Malfoy. Save you from having to repeat it all the time."
"I appreciate the thought. Perhaps I should return the favor and purchase you one that states, 'I am a bratty American muggle-born witch'. I believe that would be suitable," Lucius smiled.
"Add on, so don't mess with me, and I'll wear it all the time!" Willow laughed, "Need to teach these snotty wizards that they don't want to cross me or else."
"Or else what?" he asked with amusement.
"Or else I'll have you beat them up for me," Willow grinned. "Oh, I like that! You can have the button say, I'm a bratty American muggle-born witch so don't mess with me or Lucius Malfoy will kick your ass."
"I believe you can defend yourself without my interference," he smiled, "so such a threat is completely unnecessary. You do realize that it is not entirely enjoyable to tease you concerning such a button when you do not find being called a bratty American muggle-born witch insulting."
"It's true. Why be insulted?" Willow asked with a smile, "Besides, you don't get insulted when I call you a cranky old pureblood wizard. Wait, that's cause it's true, too."
"Which room would you like?" Lucius asked as he laughed, finding her enthusiasm nearly contagious.
"I dunno," Willow said as she moved to look into the first room. It was very nice, decorated in shades of blue and silver. The other room was decorated in shades of green and burgundy, the redhead liking it immediately. It wasn't as big as the room on the right, but it was perfect for her. There was a large desk that she instantly loved and the bed was bigger than hers at home and looked to be antique. She smiled, "I want this one."
"I shall put your bags away," Lucius said as he passed her and put the bags beside her bed. He left the room, telling her, "You can unpack later. Dumbledore will return soon with some food, though I dread to imagine what horrid concoction the elves will put together at this late hour."
"I bet it's good," Willow smirked at him as she sat on the comfy sofa, finding that it was just as comfy as she'd imagined. "I'm actually pretty hungry so I hope he gets back soon."
"Just so long as he does not feel inclined to linger and make polite conversation," Lucius said, "After you eat, we shall retire for the evening. We will go to Hogsmeade tomorrow to purchase your robes and needed supplies. In the afternoon, I will return home briefly to gather my suitcases. I trust that you can keep yourself occupied during my absence."
"I can be nosy girl and snoop around the castle," Willow smiled excitedly, "I can't wait to explore this place."
"Somehow that does not surprise me," Lucius smiled affectionately, "do be careful, though. The castle is old and, though it is not dangerous, it can be easy to lose your way and become lost."
"Yes, Pops," Willow said, "I'll leave a trail of bread crumbs, if that makes you feel better."
"I assume that is some muggle reference," Lucius said, "so I will merely state that bread crumbs are not necessary. Just pay attention and do not allow yourself to lose direction."
"Here you are, Willow," Albus said as he entered the room, thankful that he had remembered the password. He set the tray down and smiled, "I had this prepared especially for you, to make you feel welcome."
"Cheeseburgers," Willow smiled as she looked at the plate. She stood and gave the smiling wizard a brief hug, "This is wonderful. Thank you so much."
"Yes, well, I do hope you enjoy. When you are finished, just leave the tray outside your door. Someone will collect it later," Dumbledore smiled at the pretty redhead.
"Oh, I have something for you!" Willow remembered as she darted to her new room. She returned with a sack and handed it over, "Lu told me how fond you were of candy so I brought you some of my favorites."
"Lu?" Albus arched a brow as he looked at Lucius Malfoy, a twinkle in his eyes as he realized that the pompous pureblood wizard allowed the redhead to call him by such an informal nickname. He took the bag from Willow and looked inside, smiling as he said, "Oh, my dear, you are spoiling me! There are so many delightful treats that I have not yet tried."
"Thank you for making me the offer to assist Lucius and welcoming me here," Willow smiled at him as she sat back down, her tummy growling and reminding her that she was hungry.
"You are welcome, Willow. Thank you for agreeing to assist us in our battle against the Dark Lord," he replied simply.
"If the pleasantries are finished, I will speak with you tomorrow, Headmaster," Lucius said as he made it clear that it was time for Dumbledore to leave.
"Of course, Lucius," Albus nodded at the blond wizard, smiling at Willow as he said, "If you need anything, my dear, please do not hesitate to ring for a house elf."
"Good night, Dumbledore," Willow smiled as he left before turning to look at Lucius, "That was rather rude, Lucius. Dismissing him like that. It is his school, after all, and he's taking a huge risk by assisting you in your plans against Voldemort. You should respect him even if you do not personally like him."
"I do respect him, Willow. I merely wished to eat and get some sleep before it is time to go shopping," Lucius said, rolling his eyes as she glared at him.
"It is getting rather late, isn't it?" Willow smiled as she got her plate and took a bite. "Okay, this isn't that bad. I bet they don't really make cheeseburgers a lot, do they?"
"I would not know," Lucius said as he took a bite. "It is better than that arches place you and your silly friends frequent."
"McDonalds," Willow said, "and they aren't silly."
"Quit arguing and eat your dinner," Lucius said, watching her laugh as she began to eat, asking him various questions about Hogwarts while they finished eating. When they were done, he put the tray outside the door as instructed and they both retired to their respective rooms. It did not take long for Lucius to fall asleep, his even breathing soon being the only sound in the silent room. Across the way, Willow unpacked her stuff, smiling as she looked at her new room. When she was finished, she laid down and drifted off to sleep, a smile on her pretty face as she dreamed about shopping for robes and a wand.
Willow woke early, not accustomed to sleeping for more than a few hours a night. She looked at her watch, frowning when she noticed that it wasn't working. She sighed, making a face as she realized that Lucius had been right. He'd warned her that the wards that surrounded Hogwarts would probably drain her battery in no time, but she'd hoped that he might be wrong. If her watch wasn't working, there was little hope that her laptop would work, either. She'd have to think of something, she decided as she got out of bed, putting that on her mental list of things to do when she had time. She looked at the clock that was provided in the room, rolling her eyes when she saw that it simply read, you should still be sleeping. Yeah, that was real helpful in knowing the time. She walked to the wardrobe where her clothes had been hung up the previous night, still finding it a bit odd that there wasn't a closet. She had a nice dresser and this pretty wardrobe, but no closet.
Willow wasn't entirely sure what she should wear for a day of shopping. Shopping ranked pretty low on her list of enjoyable activities so she avoided it as much as possible. She had to admit that she was a bit excited at buying robes and wands and other magical items, though, so she was looking forward to shopping with Lucius. She finally decided to go casual and comfortable, grabbing some clothes from the wardrobe. She changed into a pair of jeans and an old T-shirt, pulling her hair back into a high ponytail. Walking to the window, she looked outside and saw that it was obviously early. The sun was barely in the sky, a light fog covering the grounds. It was rather beautiful, peaceful and calm. After using the restroom, she entered the sitting room and saw that Lucius' door was still closed.
He was obviously still sleeping, the soft sound of snoring coming from his bedroom. Lucius was not an early riser, usually waking around nine whenever he'd visited her in Sunnydale. Okay, so nine was probably considerably early to a majority of people, but she was usually up by six so it seemed a bit late to her. Her friends couldn't understand why she required so little sleep, the redhead able to function perfectly well with less than fours a night, but Willow had always had that habit so it was accepted. Even as a child, she'd stay up late reading and working on schoolwork, always awake by early morning feeling as thought she'd slept a full eight hours. Now that she was older, Willow enjoyed that conditioning. She often still used that time to finish homework, to work on researching for Giles, or to study magic.
Willow decided to take a look around the school while Lucius was sleeping. They had arrived at such a late hour the previous day that she'd only had a chance to see what was between the front door and their room. Opening the door, she walked into the hallway, letting the portrait close behind her. She looked around, not sure which way to go. She didn't want to get lost, having seen the size of the castle the previous night and knowing that it would be very easy to wander off track in the massive building. Her dilemma was solved when a door down the hall opened and Dumbledore walked out. She smiled at him as he neared, having liked this wizard immediately upon meeting him the previous evening.
"Good morning, Willow," Albus smiled at the pretty redhead.
"Good morning, Dumbledore," Willow said in greeting, "I see that you're also an early riser."
"Yes, I am often awake before dawn," Albus confirmed, "I assume Lucius is still asleep?"
"Yeppers," Willow smiled, "he'll probably be asleep for another couple of hours. I decided to use this morning to have a look around Hogwarts, since we arrived so late yesterday that I wasn't able to really see anything."
"You must allow me to give you a tour," he smiled as he took her hand and looped his arm through hers. "I must tell you that I am enjoying the muggle candy you gave me! Those round, colored things, I believe they are called lifesavers? They are most delicious."
"Aren't they?" Willow agreed, "I love the bags of tropical flavors. I brought myself several bags since they are one of my snacking pleasures."
"I am also pleased with the chocolate and peanut butter cups," Albus commented, "we have a similar candy but the chocolate is not as tasty. I appreciate you thinking of me and giving me such a wonderful treat."
"I'm glad you like it," Willow said, "Lucius told me you had a fondness for sweets and I thought it would be nice to share some of my favorites."
"Yes, well, you must allow me to return the favor," Albus told her, "I shall gather a few of my wizarding favorites for you, my dear, whenever I have the opportunity."
"I look forward to it," Willow smiled as he began to give her a tour of the castle. After an hour, she was thoroughly amazed and slightly confused. There were so many floors and rooms and she was having trouble keeping everything straight. She followed him to his office, where he arranged for a light breakfast to be served. She sat down, drinking orange juice as he continued to tell her stories about the school. She was fascinated, loving the history behind the castle, as well as enjoying stories from recent times.
Another hour passed rather quickly, listening to stories involving various students at the school, mostly Harry Potter and his close friends. Willow felt almost as if she knew them, finding that they kind of reminder her of her and her friends, fighting evil and risking their lives to save others. She couldn't wait to meet them, finding herself respecting and admiring them for their chosen path in life. They'd been fighting Voldemort and his followers for six years, nearly twice the length of time she'd been fighting evil. She wasn't sure how helpful she'd be, but she would make the offer when the time came. She had faced vampires and demons daily and used her growing magic to help pretty much close the Hellmouth so maybe she could be of some assistance.
"Your presence will be a great benefit to our side, Willow," Albus said softly, his eyes twinkling as she looked at him.
"Do you read minds or are you merely very observant?" Willow smiled, the elderly wizard again seeming to know what she was thinking. "I was just wondering how I'm supposed to help Potter and his friends when they're properly trained and have been fighting this threat since before I realized vampires were real."
"Your power is natural, Willow. It has become stronger because of the Hellmouth upon which you lived, but it is a fantastic gift," Albus told her, "The training you have done with Lucius has given you control, has allowed you to balance the darkness with the purity of your heart. The true extent and strength of your ability is quite amazing, and I am grateful that you have joined the fight on our side. As for the length of fighting, you have gained vast experience during the years you have aided the slayer fighting vampires and demons determined to end the world. You are a valuable asset so never doubt your importance."
"You say the nicest things," she said softly, feeling much more confident and less insecure and nervous since Dumbledore's speech.
"I speak the truth, my dear," Albus smiled, "Lifesaver?"
"Thanks," Willow took the lifesaver and smiled, "I'd better get back to the room and see if Lucius is awake yet. He's got a busy day planned for us."
"Shopping, correct?" Albus asked as he stood and walked to the door of his office.
"Yes," Willow confirmed, "I'm not a big fan of shopping but I have to confess that I'm excited about going to a real wizarding shopping area. He's taking me to some place called Diagon Alley."
"And do you know what you need to purchase?" Albus asked, smiling as her earlier doubts seemed to fade as she practically bounced with enthusiasm.
"I have no idea, but Lucius said he was going to make a list of items that every proper witch needs to own," Willow said, "I know I need robes and a wand and I want to look for some books."
"You will need an owl, of course," Albus told her, watching her smile.
"An owl? Really? I know that's a big wizarding thing, but I didn't think I'd need one," Willow smiled, "I've never had a pet before. Never had a plant, either. Maybe that's not such a good idea. Cause, you know, I'd hate to forget to feed it or something."
"We have people that take care of feeding and watering the owls," Albus said with a smile. "They have their own home, of sorts, on the grounds and are well looked after."
"That's just nifty," Willow said, "I guess I'll have to buy an owl then. I'll make sure Lucius adds it to the list. Have a good day, Dumbledore. I'll see you at dinner, if not before."
"You have a wonderful day as well, my dear," Albus told her, "enjoy your visit to Diagon Alley!"
Willow left Dumbledore at the end of the hallway and entered her quarters. She smiled at Lucius, seeing that he was freshly showered and dressed. "Good morning, Lucius. Did you sleep well?"
"As well as could be expected sleeping on a hard mattress with such cheap linen," Lucius said dryly, smiling slightly as he continued, "I will not sleep another day is such poorly inadequate surroundings."
"My bed was rather comfortable," Willow said, "much softer than mine at home."
"I have plans to bring linen from the Manor that are far more suitable for a Malfoy," Lucius informed her, "and I will also replace our mattresses before retiring for the evening. A good night's sleep is very important, my dear, especially when preparing to face dozens of annoying children every day."
"You're such a snob, Lu," Willow laughed, "but I guess I can't complain since you're planning on redoing my room, also."
"Only the best for my friends, Willow," Lucius smirked, before asking, "how did you occupy your morning, love? I assume you were awake at dawn, as usual."
"Not quite that early," Willow smiled sheepishly, "but close enough. I actually ran into Headmaster Dumbledore, and he took me on a brief tour of Hogwarts."
"I am surprised that your eyes are bright and not glossed over from listening to endless stories from the old wizard," Lucius remarked, watching her roll her eyes, his lips curving into a smile.
"I found his stories very informative and entertaining," Willow told him, "learned quite a bit about Potter and his friends, actually. They sound like my kind of people."
"Why does that not surprise me?" Lucius snorted, "A goody goody like you appreciating a bunch of annoying do gooders. Big surprise that you'd find yourself relating to the brats."
"I do believe that is the first time I've heard you use the phrase goody goody," Willow laughed, "it sounds rather snotty coming from you, Pops. I'll accept it as a compliment, though, instead of an insult. If I recall, my do gooder tendencies are why you are still alive and not a midnight snack for some pathetic vampire."
"I suppose that you're admiration of Potter and his friends will be beneficial considering the necessity of your befriending them," Lucius decided, his blue eyes gleaming with amusement as he added, "and I do mean it as a compliment, Willow, though I will deny ever saying such a thing. I do have a reputation to protect after all."
"Of course, Lucius," Willow smiled sweetly, "you are an evil bad guy, a dark wizard who could never possibly speak of admiration for a goody goody such as myself. Did you want something to eat this morning or are you ready to go shopping?"
"Willow, you are delightful," Lucius gave in and laughed, "I appreciate your accurate description of myself, though I prefer to also consider myself threatening and dangerous as well as being an evil bad guy. As for the rest, perhaps a small breakfast before we head to London."
"London?" Willow asked excitedly, "I didn't know we were going to London. Is that where Diagon Alley is? I normally hate shopping but I'm very excited about today. Did you want to eat some breakfast in the room or do you want to eat downstairs? Dumbledore had the most delicious looking scones this morning, but I waited to eat with you."
"Have the house elves bring up some pastries, jams, and juice," Lucius told her, pleased that she had waited to eat breakfast with him. She rang for a house elf before sitting down and smiling at him. He leaned back, a smile crossing his face as he listened to her tell him various stories she had heard from Dumbledore. It was a pleasant way to begin the day, he decided, sharing a meal with his protégé and having casual conversation with someone that he cared about. He had to admit that he, too, was looking forward to their day of shopping.
Willow and Lucius had a wonderful breakfast. The redhead ate the scones that were every bit as delicious as they appeared to be, talking to Lucius about the various sites that she had seen during her tour of Hogwarts. He had listened to her stories, adding his own personal stories when appropriate. Willow had listened to him tell her about his escapades at Hogwarts, finding that he looked several years younger when he was telling her stories about his mischievous past. She'd teased him repeatedly, causing him to laugh when she innocently remarked that she'd have expected more mature behavior from a pureblood Slytherin. It seemed that the boredom of a boarding school, even one for wizards and witches, caused even the silliest pranks to seem fun and enjoyable. It was nice, him trusting her with tales of his pre-Voldemort's minion days. She had to wonder where things had gone wrong for him, what had caused him to move beyond just being a snotty pureblood who thought everyone else was beneath him to actually following the Dark Lord and participating in activities that rivaled the worst of things she'd seen in Sunnydale. Of course, she knew what went wrong. They'd discussed that numerous times during their year plus friendship. He'd told her things that he admitted never telling anyone else, sealing their friendship with trust and honesty and making her admire him even more despite his past misdeeds.
Breakfast was now over and it was time to finally go shopping. Willow was so excited, still finding it amusing that she was eager to go shopping of all things. She watched Lucius place the tray of breakfast remains outside their room, beside the wall, smiling when he glanced at her, arching his brow and smirking at her.
"Willow, dear, do you plan on joining me for the shopping adventure or are you so comfortable that your lazy American ways are urging you to take a nap?" Lucius smirked at the redhead as he noticed that she was still sitting on the sofa, his eyes flashing with amusement as she stuck her tongue out at him.
"Lazy American ways?" Willow repeated after sticking her tongue out at him, rolling her eyes as she got to her feet and moved towards the door, "I won't even dignify that rude remark with a response, Pops. It would be a waste of a witty comeback."
"So you are saving the witty comeback for another occasion?" he asked with a snort, "Just admit that you do not have a reasonable defense because my statement is fairly accurate."
"No one likes a smart ass, Lu," Willow giggled, "and I will merely agree that your statement might possibly be appropriate for *some* Americans, but it also would be quite suitable for many, many people throughout the entire world. Lazy is such a vague description, after all. In fact, I could use such a word to describe you, old man, and your habit of sleeping in several hours after I've already woken and begun enjoying my day."
"Are you calling me lazy, Willow?" Lucius asked in a drawling tone, his lips curved into a frown that was not nearly as threatening considering his pale blue eyes were flashing with mischief.
"Not at all," Willow smirked, "I merely said that I *could* use such a word to describe my favorite pureblood wizard, not that I planned to use it. I feel no need to insult my friends based on their lineage or habits, unlike you, my dear Pureblood snob."
Lucius started to laugh, enjoying the moment before the act would begin. He shook his head, scolding her, "Willow, really, how many times have I told you that a pureblood never tires of hearing about his status? Such a statement is a compliment, not the insult you intended. I'd have expected far better from you, my dear."
"Nah, I just wanted you to laugh," Willow smiled at him, sighing as she admitted, "I'm a bit nervous and hearing you laugh is familiar and comforting."
"Familiar? Only around you and, perhaps, your friends, Willow," Lucius said quietly, "My laughter is quite rare in other facets of my life. There is no need to be nervous. We are just shopping, after all. On second thought, shopping is such a horrid activity that I would understand a certain reluctance to begin the task."
"There is to a reason to be nervous," Willow said, ignoring his attempt at humor with the shopping comment. She made a face, "This is my first trip into the world of wizards. Besides that, we'll have to start the act. Anyone could see us and it wouldn't do for Lucius Malfoy to be seen laughing with a muggle-born American witch. Word could get back to Voldy and we don't want that, not until you've had your chance of presenting him with the fact that I am your assistant and shared your evil plans to use my trusting nature as a way to control me blah, blah, blah."
"How you can say so many words without taking a breath is a mystery I am still unable to solve," Lucius smiled slightly before acknowledging, "You are correct, though. Once we leave Hogwarts, the act will begin. To support my upcoming conversation with Voldemort, and do try to refrain from calling him Voldy, you will need only to remember that my behavior is not sincere. If we are observed, as I am sure we will be, it would aid my explanations to the Dark Lord if you are seen as non-threatening, easily influenced, and trusting."
"I hate playing the gullible, silly American," Willow muttered, "but I promise there will be no teasing or nicknames when we are around others."
"Perhaps there will be benefits to constantly surrounding ourselves with others," Lucius smiled smugly, earning him a hit on his arm from a grinning redhead.
"You are such a jerk," Willow laughed as they left Hogwarts, walking towards the area where they had arrived the previous evening. It was hard to believe that she'd not even been at Hogwarts for an entire day, finding herself fitting in relatively easily and enjoying the entire experience. She made a face as she asked, "Do you have one of those portkey things for Diagon Alley? Cause that one last night made me a bit nauseous and I'd hate to arrive at this place and puke up my scones. Not the best first impression, ya know?"
"I doubt there is a great risk of your scones making a reappearance, Willow. We are not using a portkey to get to Diagon Alley," Lucius informed her, "we will be apparating."
"Oh, that's fun," Willow smiled, having learned about apparating during their sessions over the last year. It was just like teleporting, except you needed an official license and had to take classes, kind of like getting a driver's license. She'd gotten very good at it, something that made Lucius very proud, but she did not have a proper license and such so she used the teleporting variation instead to get around the wizarding rules. He had taught her the proper way, of course, so that she would be prepared when the time came to be licensed, just as he'd taught her to use a wand even though she didn't have one. Her magic was wandless, controllable and precise, and she didn't have any need to use some silly twig. Their arguments over the use or non use of a wand were always fun, Lucius tending to turn red and glare when he was trying to get her to see how important a wand was to the wizarding community.
Wandless magic was not practiced in his world, true masters of the art being rare and those few proven masters being whispered about in awe and envy. Personally, Willow didn't see what the big deal was, having a natural adeptness for wandless magic, something that Lucius told her was very rare, which didn't make a lot of sense considering her interaction with others that practiced wicca or other forms of wandless magic. He dismissed those people as practitioners of a religion, the majority not having the ability to raise a pencil in the air much less successfully use the charms and hexes of his people. He'd been very surprised at how easily she had adjusted to using the spells he taught her, not believing them possible without a wand.
She didn't consider herself some powerful force, thinking it was more than likely that he and the other wizards just hadn't had a lot of interaction with people like Giles and Jenny who used all kinds of magic without a wand, the watcher being the first person who introduced her to magic and Jenny being the one that believed she had a natural gift and had started teaching her before she'd died. While the redhead did believe that she had some power and skill and would be able to assist Potter and the others in the fight against Voldemort, she didn't believe that she was rare or awe inspiring at all. More like lucky to have grown up on a Hellmouth that seemed to have made her power stronger than it was naturally and fortunate to have met people who were good at magic and willing to answer her questions and curiosity before she began officially training with a real wizard.
Once Willow had mastered the words, he'd let her use his wand, something that usually did not produce a favorable result since wizards were not supposed to use others wands. In her case, it had worked out relatively well. There had been some mess ups, of course, and he told her that she needed her own wand to completely understand how it could become an extension of her power, but it had pretty neat. His wand was actually pretty cool, fixed so that it fit into the top of his walking cane, a silver snake head on one end. Lucius sometimes took the whole Slytherin thing a bit far, in her opinion, but she did like the way he concealed his wand from those who need not know about it. Sneaky and cunning and only Lucius Malfoy could turn it into a decorative accessory.
"Why are you smirking?" Lucius asked as they reached the clearing, the redhead beside him having been quiet and thoughtful since leaving the castle.
"I was just wondering what my wand is going to be like," Willow smiled, "I don't really want to use one, but I hope it turns out to be a good one."
"I'm sure it will be perfectly suitable," Lucius said thoughtfully, "It will take some time to grow accustomed to using a wand, but I am confident you will be very successful at the task. After all, there are very few people who could use my wand as well as you. A Malfoy wand is particular on whom it allows to control it. The fact that it took so well to you gives me an idea that you will have no problems adjusting to your own wand."
"Geesh, even the Malfoy wands are snobs," Willow smirked, "but I am pleased that you have faith in my abilities, Lucius. That means a lot!"
"Of course it does," he smiled smugly, "it is rare that a Malfoy offers a true compliment to anyone, much less a muggle-born American."
"Arrogant pureblood," Willow muttered with a smile.
"Bratty muggle-born," Lucius replied with his own smile. He took her hand, the smile fading as he sighed, "Are you ready to go to Diagon Alley, Willow?"
"Yes, I am," Willow nodded, squeezing his hand as she said, "let's get this show on the road."
"What show? And what road?" Lucius frowned, not understanding her response.
"It's a muggle thing," Willow smiled, "it means, let's get the plan started. It's time to do some shopping and start the act."
Lucius nodded, concentrating on apparating as he said, "To Diagon Alley."
"Do close your mouth, child," Lucius smiled smugly at Willow as they arrived in Diagon Alley. He winked at her before glancing at the cobblestones under his feet. When he raised his head, the humor and happiness had fled his face. His pale blue eyes were cold and his lips were curved into a perpetual sneer as he regarded his surroundings.
Willow noticed the change, a bit awestruck at how different he seemed when his eyes were so chilling and he was seemingly glaring at the world around him. Even his posture had changed, his back straight and his head tilted at a slight angel as if he were looking down on those around him. For the first time since she'd met him, she was seeing the Lucius Malfoy that the rest of the world saw. Now she understood why Dumbledore had seemed so surprised and amused at their good-natured teasing the previous evening. This Lucius Malfoy did not strike her as the type to tease or tolerate being called Pops or Lu or any of the other random nicknames that had crossed her lips during their year long friendship. She shivered slightly as he turned to look at her, giving her the full impact of his snarl. This was the pureblood wizard that had eagerly joined Voldemort in hopes of gaining power and prestige, that had ignored his wife and child for whatever authority came his way, that had willingly sacrificed an untold number of lives in his quest to be the best.
"Are you going to stand there and gape all day, silly girl? I am a busy man and have far more important things to do than escort a mudblood around Diagon Alley," Lucius said harshly, ignoring the few glares he received for using that foul word.
"Sorry, Lucius," Willow replied automatically, not letting his tone or words affect her. She knew they were playing the game now, that the act had begun. She wished she was as good at acting as Lucius, finding herself admiring him even more for being willing to change from the bastard standing in front of her into the wizard that had become her surrogate father in a lot of ways. She had no doubt that she was seeing the real Lucius Malfoy right now, the one that was Voldemort's right hand, that had been a horrible father and husband, that was a pureblood snob who believed himself above all others because of his bloodline and strength. But he was also Lu, the wizard whose life she had saved, the guy that taught her about magic and teased her and had a really great smile when he let himself relax enough to enjoy life, that had become her friend.
"My name is Professor Malfoy," Lucius snarled, "you do not have permission to use my first name, silly girl. If you are quite finished being impressed with this dirty alley, I would like to get this shopping experience finished as quickly as possible."
"Yes, Professor," Willow said sweetly, stressing the title and glaring slightly as she followed behind him, watching with something akin to amazement as he walked quickly with his robes billowing behind him, his head held high and his eyes most liking glaring at anyone that dare be in his path. She saw that the majority of people on the road got out of his way quickly, looking at him with fear or respect, which she found a bit of a strange combination. She hurried after him, rather impressed with his performance thus far. She tried to take in everything they walked past, but there was so much that she could have happily spent hours just looking in the various shops and being astonished by all the neat things she was seeing. Instead, she was trying to keep up with Lucius as he led her to nearly the opposite end of the alley. Finally, they stopped. She glanced at the building, seeing that it read Gringott's Wizarding Bank on a pretty plaque. She asked, "What are we doing here?"
"Why do you think, child?" Lucius smirked, "Do you suppose that you would be able to simply smile at the shop owners and they would gladly hand over whatever you wished for no money at all? I am fully aware that you hold the position as my assistant because that crazy old bastard Dumbledore wishes to punish me and make my life even more hellish, but I do sincerely wish he had at least chosen an annoying mudblood with something resembling a brain!"
"I don't have money here, Professor," Willow said slowly, deciding that he might just be a little good at reclaiming his normal personality. His words had been insulting and she was resisting the urge to snap at him for being a rude jerk, but she kept reminding herself that they had to give the performance in case anyone was watching. And, noticing the attention that Lucius Malfoy commanded where ever he went, she knew that there were people watching.
"God save me from brainless children," Lucius muttered before pushing his way past the doors, his hand grabbing Willow's and pulling her along behind him. He reached into the pocket of his robe, removing a key for a vault. He handed it to Willow discreetly, thankful that no one had overheard her proclamation of not having an account at Gringott's. He'd forgotten to give her the key before they arrived, but he had covered up that error easily.
All in all, he was rather enjoying himself. He was no longer this vile creature that he was pretending to be, but he knew the persona expertly. He had lived nearly thirty-eight years as the embodiment of Slytherin pureblood with little regard to the world around him. He was intelligent and cunning and quite handsome. Even those who feared his association with Voldemort could not help but admire him and his various achievements, something that caused a great deal of satisfaction in the blond wizard. He felt a bit guilty for being so rude to Willow, but he knew that she was aware that this was an act and that his words were relatively empty.
God, if that didn't tell him how he had changed in such a short time, feeling guilty for insulting an American muggle-born witch. He cared greatly about the pretty redhead beside him, considering her very much like a daughter despite the short amount of time that they had been friends. After Voldemort was defeated, he planned to continue teaching Willow, perhaps ask her to move into the Manor. It was so quiet since Narcissa's death and Draco's desertion. Willow would brighten the place up, her smile causing the darkness to dispel and perhaps he could finally begin to enjoy his life again. If everything went as he wished, his son would marry the redhead beside him and possibly gift him with grandchildren when he was still at an age to enjoy the silly little creatures. He moved his thoughts from such notions, needing to concentrate on the present and not what he hoped might come to pass. He could not look towards that future yet, not until Voldemort was defeated.
"What are they?" Willow whispered quietly, her green eyes looking at the demony creatures that seemed to be running the bank.
"Goblins," Lucius responded with a smirk, a bit amused by her reaction to the goblins. He was not very surprised that she was suspicious of anything that resembled a demon, knowing that she had faced the worst kinds of evil on the Hellmouth. He leaned over slightly, pretending as if he were dusting lint from the folds of his dark gray robe, "They are not harmful, brat, unless you try to steal from them," straightening as he snottily said louder, "Are you planning on standing around all day or can we withdraw the money for this horrid shopping expedition and get it over with?"
"Of course, Professor," Willow said as she followed his lead and moved to the counter. She handed the goblin her key, giving him a bright smile that seemed to startle him. He grumbled to himself about cheerful witches and annoying perkiness before leading her and Lucius into a cart. With a gasp, Willow clung to the sides of the cart as it descended below ground. She heard Lucius chuckle behind her, giving him a glare in the safety of their private cart. Finally the cart stopped and she watched with interest as the goblin opened her vault. She was surprised to see what appeared to be a rather large sum of money.
When he asked how much she wished to withdraw, Lucius replied for her, asking for what sounded like a small fortune of galleons. Finally, they left Gringott's with money in her pockets. She made a mental note to ask Lucius where the money came from, though she had a pretty good idea that he'd arranged it for her, which made sense. It wasn't like he could be seen buying her supplies for her, not when he was supposed to be considering working with her a torturous and hellish experience. She decided to ignore his glower, as he'd instructed, and smiled eagerly, "Where to next?"
"Ollivander's," Lucius replied, lowering his voice as he whispered, "You need to get a wand before anyone notices that you do not have one."
She followed him to the right as they walked away from Gringott's, passing several more shops before finally arriving in front of a shabby little store with writing on the window. She read the name, Ollivander's, and saw that they were 'Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C.', which was an awfully long time ago. She followed Lucius inside, finding herself looking at a man that might have possibly been the wizard to make that first wand centuries ago. He was a bit disturbing, in a non-threatening way. She was about to introduce herself when he spoke.
"Mr. Malfoy, it has been a long time since I've seen you. Your son's wand, I believe. Such a remarkable child, that boy, his wand was quite powerful. I do hope it has served him well in life so far?" Ollivander asked, his eyes moving to Willow, not letting Lucius have a chance to reply, "Well, well, what do we have here?"
"Hi," Willow smiled as she moved past Lucius, knowing that the mention of Draco had probably made him even more cranky, "I'm Willow Rosenberg. I'm going to be assisting at Hogwarts this term and I need a wand."
"You have come to the right place, my dear," Ollivander laugher as he gestured around his shop, his eyes narrowing as he grew thoughtful, "you have never had a wand, have you? Quite unusual to be your age and never had a wand. What to choose, what to choose. Try this one."
Willow was surprised when he made a gesture with his own wand and a box flew to him. He opened and she looked at the wand inside. To her, they all looked pretty much the same, though she knew there were all kinds of details that made them each unique. She took the wand from Ollivander and followed his instructions to try it out. She ended up causing some parchments on his counter to catch fire. She hastily handed it back to him, smiling sheepishly, "Um, I don't think that was supposed to happen."
"You have a great deal of power and strength, my dear," Ollivander mused, his eyes moving to Lucius Malfoy and back again. This girl would not be tarnished by Voldemort, he realized as he stared into her eyes, his lips curving into a pleased smile, "Such courage and loyalty and quite intelligent. Useful traits, they are. There is a darkness to your power, but it is properly balanced by a purity in your heart. What to choose."
Willow was a bit worried about the darkness comment, but Lucius had told her shortly after their training had begun that the Hellmouth had increased her natural gift, that being the darkness that was sort of attached to her power. She was thrilled that this Ollivander guy said it was balanced, having been a little worried upon hearing that some of her power was coming from the very evil that she struggled to fight daily. She was pulled from her thoughts by Ollivander's sudden movement.
"I know the perfect wand. I have had it for centuries, but I do believe you are the owner on which it has been waiting," Ollivander declared as he retrieved a box from the far corner of the store. He opened the box, smiling as he handed her the wand. "It is ten inches, willow wood, with unicorn hair, a phoenix feather, and a drop of vampire blood. How does it feel, my dear?"
Willow took the wand, eyes widening as she felt something rush over her at the contact, trying it out and seeing that it worked perfectly. She was a bit surprised about the vampire blood, but she guessed it made sense. Power from a Hellmouth, it seemed appropriate that her wand would contain a reminder of the source of her power.
"I do believe it likes you," Ollivander declared, "shall I ring up the purchase?"
"Yes," Willow nodded, giving Lucius a pleased smile before moving to the counter and paying for her new wand. Once the transaction was complete, she put the wand in the back pocket of her jeans and followed Lucius into the street. She was dying to tell him how neat it had been to hold the wand and feel as if it was accepting her, but she'd have to wait. He gave her a cold smile, though his eyes softened momentarily as he spoke.
"It is now time to buy your robes. The disgrace of keeping your wand in your pocket, typical of a muggle-born, I must say. No respect at all for your belongings," Lucius snarled, "come along, child. I will leave you at Madam Malkin's while I make a few purchases of my own. Standing around while some daft girl tries on robes sounds even more torturous than listening to that fool Ollivander speak so highly of you."
"I'll try to be quick about it, Professor," Willow smiled, not letting his snarling interfere with her good mood. She walked beside him, looking at everything they passed, greeting the people who crossed their path, much to Lucius' annoyance. She smiled innocently at him as he glared at her, stopping to stare into the window of a pet store, a soft smile crossing her face as she looked at the variety of animals.
Draco Malfoy rolled his gray eyes as he watched his Godfather study every silly rat in the large cage, wishing that Severus Snape would hurry and choose one. They'd been at the Magical Menagerie for at least an hour while the Potions Master analyzed each rat. Draco wasn't quite sure how Snape could tell them all apart, all the black rodents looking the same to him. He had spent the summer at the Snape family home, a rather gloomy place that made Malfoy Manor looked positively cheerful and welcoming. It was his second summer spent with Snape, though they had traveled during the previous summer. Research for potions, according to Snape. Draco personally believed it had been merely a ruse to get him away from England in case his Father reacted poorly to his decision to join the resistance against Voldemort. As it happened, Lucius Malfoy didn't seem to care at all, not arguing when Draco had informed him of his choice, not attempting to coerce him into staying, not saying a single word to the young blond wizard except a sneering warning to take care of himself.
Draco had no regrets at all about his decision, having decided a few years before that he wasn't going to meekly follow Voldemort just because his Father wished it. He couldn't stand Potter and his silly group of Gryffie do-gooders and hated being on anything remotely resembling the same side as them, but he had been unable to deny his disgust at what Voldemort was doing by the time he was in his fourth year. He'd not said a word, of course, allowing everyone to believe that he had ever intention of supporting Voldemort. A majority of his house were planning to follow in their parents' footsteps, never questioning anything, simply obeying orders like mindless puppets. Draco Malfoy was not a puppet, thank you very much, and he had given a lot of thought to his decision.
After his Mum had died, the choice was made. He would not become a Death Eater. He'd been very surprised when Snape told him that Voldemort was unaware of his decision. It seemed that Lucius had told the Dark Lord that he had sent Draco to stay with Snape to learn the art of Potions, concealing the truth about Draco's decision. Snape had carried on the ruse, though Draco knew that his Godfather was suspicious of Lucius' motives, as was the younger Malfoy. He did not trust his Father at all, having spent years trying to impress the man that never found his actions good enough. When he'd first arrived at Hogwarts, he had obeyed his Father without question, without reservation. He had reported dutifully on Potter's activities, on various observations he made regarding Dumbledore or whatever other information his Father desired. It had never been enough.
He had not spoken to Lucius since that evening at the Manor over a year ago. In many ways, he did not miss his Father at all. He missed his Mum. She had always sent him treats at school, writing to him about her days and telling him she cared about him and missed him. His Father had only ever written when he needed information. Draco had been spoiled as a child, certainly, able to have anything that he wanted. When he'd wanted to join the Slytherin quidditch team, there had been a donation from Lucius Malfoy and suddenly Draco had a position. He had worked his arse off practicing, wanting to prove that he deserved to be on the team. He had been annoyed that his Father did not believe him good enough to make it on his own merit, bribing the team with gifts to insure him a place on the team. He had not complained, of course, enjoying the opportunity to play his favorite sport, but it was something that he remembered during his drifts into thought regarding his Father.
He had earned everything else in his life at Hogwarts. Prefect and now the title of Head Boy when classes began following the weekend. He'd earned those positions, the few pranks he played on Potter and his lot not overshadowing his grades and his ability to charm most of the staff. His grades were his own, besting Granger in some classes much to her dismay and annoyance. Yet another reason to succeed in class, Draco enjoying causing even a minor disruption in Potter and company's perfect little world where they were always the heroes and earned everyone's respect and admiration. He had risked everything by turning on Voldemort and his Father and everyone still treated him as if he were the enemy, a Death Eater in the making. True, they were unaware of his allegiance with Dumbledore, but, still, it was quite irritating not receiving the credit he deserved for making such a dangerous and surprising choice. Soon, though, everyone would know. He couldn't wait to see the shocked expressions on their stupid faces.
"Stop glaring at the rats," Severus said sharply, "you are disturbing them and I am unable to find the perfect specimen."
"They all look the same," Draco grumbled as he glared at his Godfather, though he did move towards the cage of cats in the front window. He sighed as he looked at the balls of fur, his eyes looking out the window briefly before turning to look to see if Snape was nearly finished. Slowly, he turned to look back out the window, his eyes narrowing as he found himself looking at what very well could be the face of an angel. She was bloody beautiful, a term that he did not often use. Pale skin and full lips. Her hair was a vibrant red, those annoying Weasleys only *wished* their hair looked as good as hers, framing her pretty face. She was smiling as she looked at the kittens, causing her entire face to light up. He was shocked when he saw his Father move beside her, the redhead taking one last look at the kittens before following Lucius. What the fuck?
"Are you ready to finish your shopping, boy?" Severus asked as he joined Draco by the window.
"I just saw my Father," Draco said quietly, turning to look at Severus, "There was this pretty girl about my age looking at the cats and she went off with him. I think she was muggle-born, Snape. Is she in danger?"
"Lucius was with a muggle-born?" Severus' left brow raised, "That is definitely a cause for alarm. I do not, however, believe that he would parade around Diagon Alley for all to see if he intended to cause her harm."
"Still, maybe we should follow them, make sure she's okay," Draco suggested, worried at what his Father might have planned for the cute redhead.
"You said she was cute?" Severus asked slowly, his lips curving into a slight smirk as the pale blond avoided his gaze. He was proud of the boy standing next to him, knowing that Draco had made a difficult choice by deciding to fight with the resistance against Voldemort. He was aware that no one knew of Draco's decision, the boy doing his best to keep his decision from his Slytherin housemates. There were others in Snape's house that had chosen as Draco had, turning against their parents and the expectations for them join Voldemort's army, and they, too, kept this decision quiet until the time when sides were officially chosen. Wouldn't that Potter brat be amazed to find out that not all Slytherins were future Death Eaters? Draco was the one that Severus was most proud of, the Potions Master having feared for many years that Lucius would successfully mold the boy into a junior version of himself.
To say he had been shocked when the elder Malfoy contacted him following Draco's declaration of sides to ask him to keep an eye on his son was an understatement. He did not believe that Lucius Malfoy was loyal to anyone but himself. The blond wizard was a selfish bastard that had no regard to anyone else in the world, willing to do anything for power and prestige. Thus, it was a bit confusing to Severus when he realized that Lucius had lied to Voldemort regarding Draco's future and he'd realized that Lucius did not intend to force Draco to follow in his footsteps. He had lied to protect his son, to keep him alive since it was certain that Voldemort would have added the boy to the list of those he desired to see dead without hesitation if he was aware that Draco was going to choose Dumbledore's side. Severus still did not understand why Lucius had gone to the trouble of keeping his son safe, but he had learned decades ago that Lucius Malfoy was unpredictable. As long as there was no threat to Draco, Severus was content to sit back and keep his eye on Lucius, knowing the blond wizard was every bit as dangerous as Voldemort.
"She was all right," Draco muttered, unaware that Snape was only half listening, "looked like a Weasley, though, and muggle-born to boot. I'm not suggesting we follow her because I'm smitten, Snape, I just don't trust that bastard father of mine and don't want him to play some stupid Death Eater game with her."
"Your Father is not a stupid man, Draco. As I said previously, I can not imagine him being seen publicly with someone he wished to harm," Severus reluctantly acknowledged, "also, it is not customary amongst Death Eaters to parade around town with intended victims. Besides, Lucius hates to get his hands dirty with such trivial tasks. He much prefers running things to actual torture and death. Since you are worried, though, perhaps we can run into them and I will evaluate the situation."
"Thank you, Professor," Draco gave the Potions Master a brief smile before walking outside, moving in the direction that the redhead had gone. He wondered what her name was and how she had met his Father, his curiosity piqued as he and Snape kept their eyes open for Lucius and the redhead.
"Do not leave the store until I return," Lucius informed Willow, catching her eyes to make sure she understood that this was not a request.
"Yes, Master," Willow muttered before giving him an innocent smile, "I won't leave the store without you, Professor. Will you be gone long? Where are you going, by the way?"
"My activities do not concern you, child," Lucius responded rudely, "I will return when I am ready to return and not a moment sooner. Until that time, you will wait here."
"Oh yay," Willow rolled her eyes, "Couldn't leave me at the bookstore for an unspecified amount of time. Nope, had to be a robe store. Yeah, it's gonna take me a real long time to buy a few robes."
"It would not be nearly as enjoyable for myself if I were to leave you at a store you would like spending time in, silly girl," Lucius smirked, his eyes casually searching the street around them before turning in such a way that it appeared he was looking into the store window, speaking softly, "I shall not be gone long, Willow. And, if you are a good girl and obey my instructions, I may reward you with extra time at the bookstore."
"Thank you, Lu," Willow said softly, giving him a smile before saying a bit louder, "What kind of robes do I need to buy again, Professor Malfoy? I seem to have forgotten my list."
"Why does that not surprise me?" Lucius remarked sharply, "You must have three black robes and one robe for special occasions. That is the minimum, though the very idea of having only three robes is just horrifying. The material rarely fades, but I would advise having one robe for each school day, if not more. And, considering you will be my assistant, I would recommend you paying attention to my advice."
"Are we allowed to wear regular clothing on weekends or are the robes mandatory the whole time?" Willow asked curiously, realizing that she hadn't even discussed the wardrobe requirements with him except for the fact that robes were worn to class.
"Regular clothing is acceptable on weekends, though a robe is preferred attire for meals," Lucius said as they reached Madam Mankin's. "Here is the store. As I previously instructed, do not leave the premises until I return. Do try not to make a nuisance of yourself, child."
"I'll try my best," Willow said, rolling her eyes as she entered the store. Yep, they sold robes. A variety of colors, though the majority of the racks were black. That made sense considering the chosen uniform for Hogwarts and a variety of other wizarding professions was a simple black robe. She stared at the racks, having no idea where to start. She looked around the store, not finding anyone that looked like they worked there. With a sigh, she moved to one of the racks. She had no idea what size she was when it came to robes. Unfortunately, they did not seem to measure in small, medium and large.
She was about to groan in frustration when she noticed a girl about her age looking at the sale rack of robes, slightly amused at the idea of a sale rack of black robes that looked identical to the black robes on the full price rack. The girl was blonde and rather pretty, the type that Willow would have compared to Cordelia as one of the "popular crowd" based on appearances. But this girl didn't project Cordy's confidence and smug attitude. In fact, this girl seemed rather quiet and shy, which was a contradiction her outward appearance. Willow decided to talk to her, see if she could help with the robe question. She moved closer to the girl, smiling as she asked, "Hey, this might seem like a really stupid question, but could you tell me how these sizes work?"
The girl looked up at her, eyes widening with surprise, staring at Willow as if she was surprised that the redhead had spoken. In a soft voice, she asked, "You're talking to me?"
"Yes," Willow nodded, keeping the smile on her face even as she found herself curious as to the girl's reaction to her simple question. She explained, "I didn't mean to interrupt your shopping, but I'm completely lost at this robe buying thing so I thought take a chance and see if you could help me out."
"You're not interrupting at all," the girl smiled shyly, holding out a hand, "My name is Pansy Parkinson. Do you still want to talk to me?"
"Why wouldn't I?" Willow was curious, not understanding exactly what was going on. The girl's name was vaguely familiar, but the redhead couldn't place it. Lucius had told her about many students at Hogwarts, the ones that were friends with Potter, the ones that were children of Death Eaters that would be following their parents into Voldemort's army, and the ones that might be of use in the battle against the Dark Lord. The girl was the right age to be a student at Hogwarts, Willow just couldn't recall which category the girl fit into. She definitely didn't strike the redhead as a friend of Harry Potter's, not based on Lucius rather entertaining descriptions of the Gryffindors. That meant she was either an enemy or an ally. Willow made the decision to give the girl a chance, shaking her hand politely as she said, "I'm Willow Rosenberg. It's nice to meet you, Pansy."
"I haven't heard that, well, ever," Pansy smiled slightly, rather enjoying having a conversation with someone. It seemed like it had been a long time since anyone had bothered talking to her, most people avoiding her completely during the last three months following her parents' deaths. Just because her parents had been Death Eaters, killed by Aurors during a skirmish shortly before school had ended last term, everyone assumed she had the dark mark herself. She hadn't bothered denying their accusations, hating her parents for putting her in such a situation and hating everyone else for not bothering to give her a chance. She knew she had never been friendly or polite, had no problems admitting that she was a right nasty old bitch from day one at Hogwarts, but it had angered her that they didn't bother to even ask her if she was a future Death Eater. After the anger had passed, there had just been extreme loneliness.
She'd spent her summer alone at her family's house, none of her so-called friends visiting at all. She didn't really care, knowing that most of them were followers of Voldemort, but it had been so lonely. She blamed Voldemort for her parents' death. He wasn't directly responsible, but he had caused it just the same. They were weak people, the Parkinsons, and he'd used their weakness to control them. Pansy wasn't that weak, though. Okay, so she wasn't the bravest person in the world, but she was able to find enough courage to stand up against Voldemort and choose to fight on Dumbledore's side when the time came. If Draco Malfoy could do it, she could! She looked at the redhead, realizing that the American girl didn't have any idea who she was or what her family had done. She decided not to say anything, wanting a chance to talk to someone, even a muggle-born witch. She smiled, "Willow is a very pretty name. You're American, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm from California," Willow nodded, "I just arrived recently and today is my day to buy supplies before I start my new job."
"You look young to have a job," Pansy observed, wondering if the redhead would be interested in going to Florean Fortescue's for some ice cream after she had finished buying her robes. Pansy was getting her supplies for Hogwarts and then planned to return home for one last weekend before finally going back to school. She was actually anticipating the day that classes started for once, even as she dreaded finding herself ostracized because of her parents' activities. She had not been in touch with anyone over the summer, and even being ignored and talked about wouldn't be as bad as just being alone.
"Thanks," Willow smiled, "I'm eighteen. I just graduated high school back home, actually."
"You're only a year older than myself," Pansy said with surprise, "and you're already working?"
"I am going to be working at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year," Willow told the blonde witch, not surprised when Pansy nodded.
"I start my seventh term there in a couple of days," Pansy told the redhead, asking, "What are you going to be doing at the school?"
"I've been brought in as an assistant to the new DADA professor," Willow told her, relieved to hear that her new potential friend was preparing to attend classes this term. That told the redhead what category the girl must belong in, an ally for Dumbledore and the resistance against Voldemort.
"You're going to be a teacher?" Pansy sighed, disappointed that the redhead was going to be faculty. She rather liked the friendly American witch, had hoped they might become friends before the girl found out about her parents. She had never been particular discriminating against mudbloods, believing that Purebloods were superior as she'd always been taught. She disliked Granger on principle, the know-it-all constantly succeeding at every task and constantly reminding them how smart and superior she was despite her muggle upbringing. And they said that Slytherins were arrogant and condescending. Hermione Granger could compete with Malfoy in the arrogant 'I'm better than you' category with no problems whatsoever.
"No, just an assistant. Headmaster Dumbledore told me that he didn't expect me not to associate with the students because all the professors are so much older than myself," Willow smiled at the look of relief that flashed in Pansy's eyes. "That means we can be friends, if you want."
"I'd like that," Pansy said sincerely, "I have to admit that I've never been friends with a mud-I mean, muggle-born witch before, nor an American."
"You're pureblood, aren't you?" Willow asked quietly, having heard the near slip of the use of mudblood.
"Yes, I am," Pansy confirmed softly. She hesitated a moment before admitting, "and I must confess that I've spent years tormenting muggle-borns and believing them far beneath me in stature because of my lineage. I'm in Slytherin House, if you've heard of it, and we're not known for being kind and friendly people. More commonly, we are called sneaky and ambitious and spoiled, among other far less flattering terms."
"You don't think that way anymore?" Willow asked as she looked at the robes on the rack in front of them, wanting to ask more questions but not wanting to be considered nosy or suspicious by having too much knowledge of this wizarding community.
"My parents recently died and I realized that my beliefs were not exactly my own," Pansy said hesitantly, deciding she had to be honest because Willow would certainly hear about her parents when she arrived at Hogwarts. She was also in a mood for a good rant, having spent months with no one to listen to her. She knew from experience that talking to an empty room just did not achieve the same sense of satisfaction of ranting to someone who was listening. She grimaced, "They were Death Eaters, followers of He Who Must Not Be Named. They were recruited a few years ago when he rose again, and they were killed during an attack on muggles a few months ago. I never chose to follow them into service for You Know Who, but everyone hates me because they assume that I am a future Death Eater except for the future Death Eaters who hate me because I made a different choice than them."
"That's why you were surprised that I was talking to you," Willow suddenly understood. She smiled, "I don't believe in judging someone without knowing them for myself. As far as I can tell, you seem nice and willing to change your previous snobby ways. So, friends?"
"Friends," Pansy smiled happily before she moved towards a rack of black robes in the corner, "I do apologize for that rant. I just, well, it was nice having someone listen. Enough talking, Willow, we have shopping to do. We shall find you the finest robes in the store!"
It had taken nearly an hour to buy her robes. She was a little surprised that something so simple could be so time consuming. Of course, part of the time issue was because Pansy had insisted she try on each robe, even if they were the exact same size, and have Delores, the seamstress, take measurements so that the robes were made to her specifications. Personally, Willow didn't really understand what the big deal was since they were plain old robes for school. Pansy had laughed and told her in a snotty tone a la Lucius that one must always look their best, even when draped in plain black robes. Willow hadn't argued, recognizing the 'Cordelia shopping guru' glint in Pansy's hazel eyes that had taken over after their initial meeting.
Once it was all finished, she'd bought seven black robes, having no doubt that Lucius would probably count the darn things to see if she had listened to his advice to buy more than just five, and three dress robes. She was rather pleased with the dress robes, though they fit about the same as the black robes. She had selected three pretty colors and even she could admit that she looked pretty good. Her favorite was a dark emerald green with silver trim that brought out the color in her eyes and the color of her hair. The second robe was a vibrant red that looked surprising good on her, and the last was a midnight blue that almost seemed to shimmer when it moved. Lucius would be proud, she decided with a smile as she paid for her purchases. She was assured that they would be delivered to the school the following day, the alterations very minor.
"Would you like to go for some ice cream, Willow?" Pansy asked as she watched the redhead pay for the robes. She was surprised by how many the muggle-born was buying, not remembering a time when even she had bought ten robes at one time. Of course, Willow didn't have any so Pansy understood the need for a complete wardrobe. She had found out during their shopping together that Willow was relatively new to the wizarding community, somehow discovered by Headmaster Dumbledore for the assistant position. She had not attended a school of magic and was unaccustomed to many things that Pansy took for granted, but she was definitely intelligent enough to learn things quickly. Pansy had no doubt that Willow would probably know more about wizarding than she, herself, in no time at all. The redhead had heard a little about Voldemort, most likely being told the basics from Dumbledore when he had offered the position at Hogwarts, but it was not a topic that either of them seemed inclined to discuss.
She had thoroughly enjoyed her shopping experience with the American, finding her pleasant company and far more intelligent than the people she usually spoke to. Willow did not judge her based on her parents' actions, nor even based on her own honest admissions of being a selfish and rude girl for the majority of her life. That easy acceptance was new to Pansy, refreshing in a way even as she worried that Willow was just too nice and trusting, knowing that things in their world were getting more dangerous every day. There was an underlying strength to Willow, though, which caused Pansy to believe that the redhead could take care of herself should the situation arise.
"I love ice cream," Willow smiled as she received her change from her purchase, "that sounds like a wonderful idea, Pansy."
"Great! Florean Fortescue's is just across the street," Pansy said as she moved to the door, "their chocolate raspberry is my favorite. You'll have to try it."
"Chocolate is definitely a favorite of mine," Willow followed Pansy to the door, hesitating for a moment as she neared it. Lucius had specifically requested that she remain at Madam Mankin's until he returned. If she went across the street for ice cream, he was so going to be a cranky wizard and may very well decide to just send her home because she couldn't follow a basic instruction. She didn't want to disappoint him, and she certainly didn't want him to be mad at her, but ice cream did sound really good after robe shopping. She also wouldn't mind spending some more time with Pansy, finding the girl to be surprisingly good company even if she did remind her a bit of Cordelia. Of course, that was probably why she liked her, the brunette cheerleader having become a rather good friend over the years. Damn it, why did he have to tell her not to leave the store? She knew it had probably been for show, the big bad Malfoy giving orders to the muggle-born. But that just meant she couldn't take a chance of disobeying him for fear of showing disregard for his authority and that news possibly reaching Voldemort and, geesh, this was just almost too complicated. She was going to have to start referring to him as Good Lucius and Bad Lucius, that thought causing her to smile slightly.
She was lucky that he had told her to be herself, believing that would be sufficient in allowing her an opportunity to befriend Potter and his friends. He seemed to think that they would cast him immediately into the Big Bad Death Eater category and believe that he meant to corrupt or harm her, since she was a muggle-born witch. That was the reason he wasn't telling Draco the truth. Well, it was the reason he gave when she'd asked him. He seemed to believe that it was safer for Draco to remain in the dark regarding his true allegiance, not believing that his son would tell his secret but thinking that it was far less dangerous for the boy if he didn't know what was really happening. He also thought that a mutual hatred of him would bring his son closer to Potter's group, wanting his son to be protected by surrounding himself with other fighters like himself. He had no desire to his son be best friends with Potter, but Willow knew that he worried about Draco fighting on his own against Voldemort and that Lucius believed that joining Potter's silly little gang would offer some security. He had a lot of support for his reasoning, but a part of her couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't just scared.
Scared that Draco hated him so much that it wouldn't matter if he handed Voldemort over on a silver platter to Potter, that he'd never have Draco's respect or trust, that his son would never again care about him. He admitted that he was a horrible father and did not blame his son for hating him, but Willow knew that it hurt him to lose his son, especially now that he wasn't so obsessed with power and greed and could clearly see what he was missing. She didn't really agree with his decision not to tell Draco, but she didn't known his son and couldn't even begin to predict how he would react to the news that his father was playing a very dangerous game against Voldemort. If he did care about Lucius, even a little, his worry would be seen by others and either cast him in the "Death Eater" category or cause people to look more closely at Lucius' actions, either option not being of the good. If he did, indeed, hate Lucius with every fiber of his being, well, there were a lot of different things that could happen in that scenario, none of them very good. She trusted Lucius and believed that he had made the right choice, even if she felt awful at the idea of Draco being treated to a full dose of Bad Lucius along with everyone else.
"Willow, ice cream is waiting for us," Pansy said, nudging the redhead out of her thoughts. She'd been calling her name for several minutes, finding it a bit amusing that her new friend could devote so much concentration to thinking. Pansy wasn't much of a thinker, though the lonely months during the summer had given her far too much time for doing just that.
"Sorry, Pans," Willow smiled sheepishly, moving just outside the door, hoping that Lucius would consider the sidewalk part of the store. "My best friend tells me that I think too much."
"It's fine. I enjoy standing in the street talking to someone who isn't listening," Pansy smirked, rather liking the idea that Willow had given her a nickname. She'd never had one before, well not one that was polite and said with affection.
Before Willow could respond, a lazy voice drawled from beside them, the tone arrogant and smug, "Parkinson, fancy meeting you here."
Willow glanced to her left to see the owner of the snotty but undeniably sexy voice, her green eyes widening with surprise. God, he was gorgeous. Pale blond hair fell past his shoulders, pulled back with a dark green ribbon of some sort. Beautiful gray eyes, pale skin, noble features, and full lips that were curved into a rather familiar smirk. Lucius Malfoy was a very handsome man, definitely crush worthy, and Draco Malfoy had definitely inherited his father's good looks, along with his confidence and arrogance and there seemed to be intelligence in his eyes and, damn, he was a total hottie. The term hunk of salty goodness also came to mind. Willow's breath caught as he turned the full force of his attention towards her, his eyes flashing with awareness and curiosity as his eyes moved her face, much in the same way that she had just looked at him. She had assumed that Draco was handsome, the photos she had seen of him as a child showing definite signs of future hottie hood, as Buffy had called it, plus his parents were gorgeous. What she had not prepared herself for was her reaction to said hottie hood. Oh boy, this wasn't good, not good at all.
"Malfoy," Pansy said in greeting, wondering why he was talking to her. Didn't he get the Future Death Eaters of Slytherin, as she had taken to referring to the brainless prats that would be joining Voldemort, memo that said she was now the enemy and should be treated like muggle scum? Her eyes narrowed as she saw him glance at Willow, noticing the way he was looking at her new friend. She had made studying Draco Malfoy a habit during her first years at Hogwarts, finding nothing more interesting than watching the handsome wizard that seemed to personify Slytherin. He'd never wanted her, though she had made herself available to a point of feeling completely foolish.
She'd finally given up after the hundredth rejection, a part of her knowing that they were not a good match no matter what her parents wanted. They had never really been friends, that word rather foreign amongst her House, but they tolerated each other. She was a bit intrigued by his reaction to Willow, having never expected there to be a day when Draco Malfoy would be captivated by a muggle-born witch. She only recognized his interest in the redhead after years of studying him, and she wasn't sure yet if she should warn her new friend to stay far away from Malfoy. It could very well just be curiosity. Draco had always been a nosy creature, always seeking answers and loving to solve puzzles. She rolled her eyes, deciding that the months of having only herself for company were causing her to think too much. She smiled slightly at Willow as she introduced the redhead witch to the blond wizard, "This is Draco Malfoy. He goes to Hogwarts, too, and is also part of Slytherin House. Malfoy, this is Willow Rosenberg, my new friend."
"Hello, Draco," Willow said softly, wishing Lucius would hurry up and get his old ass back. She hadn't planned on meeting Draco yet, wasn't exactly sure how to act around him, especially when she was standing there wondering what he looked like naked. Goodness, wasn't she just becoming the wanton hussy? She decided not to tell Lucius that her first thought upon seeing his son had been yummy, and her second had been mine. It would just give him another reason to tease her, not to mention hearing him remind her that he'd attempted to give her his son when she'd saved him.
"Friend?" Draco repeated slowly, arching a brow as he looked at Pansy. Since when did Parkinson befriend Americans, that evident by the sweetly accented voice that had just spoken, especially what appeared to be muggle-born ones that could very well be a lost relative of those annoying Weasleys? He'd been pleasantly surprised when he'd left Quality Quidditch Supplies and headed towards Flourish and Bott's to meet Snape and noticed the redhead standing outside Madam Mankin's. He'd been relieved that she was not with his Father, hoping that he had misunderstood what he had seen earlier through the window of the pet store. He'd seen her talking to Pansy, deciding to use his old acquaintance as a way to meet the girl that had caught his attention.
"Yes, friend," Pansy replied snottily, a bit annoyed that he seemed to find it so hard to believe that she would have a friend who was nice and pretty and friendly. She wished he'd just go away. Oh God, what if he went and told the Future Death Eaters of Slytherin that she had made a muggle-born friend? She didn't think that Draco was stupid enough to follow the Dark Lord no matter what his Father wanted, but she didn't know who had his true loyalty and here she was introducing her new friend to someone that could be a potential Death Eater. She glared at him, "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
"No, why? Does my presence bother you, Parkinson?" Draco drawled, his lips curving into a smirk as he turned his attention to Willow. Beautiful name, he decided. "Forgive my fellow Slytherin for being a rude bitch. I'm afraid she was born that way. It is a great pleasure to meet you, Willow."
"Yes, you would be an expert at rudeness, wouldn't you, Malfoy?" Pansy asked sweetly, though her hazel eyes were narrowed as she tried to figure out why Draco was flirting with Willow. She knew that the redhead was quite attractive and there was a slight chance that Draco was simply reacting like a normal guy introduced to a pretty girl. She didn't trust any of her fellow Slytherins right now, though, and couldn't help but believe that Draco's intentions were less than honorable until she was proven incorrect.
"Parkinson, your insult wounds me," Draco drawled amusedly, his gray eyes glancing at Pansy as he smirked before he turned his attention back to Willow, "Please forgive Pansy for her immature behavior. She has always been jealous of me. Alas, when one is as intelligent, attractive and wealthy as myself, one becomes accustomed to the envy, resentment, and worship of others. One can only take so much adulation and idolization before it becomes mundane. I also must admit that being perfect can sometimes get rather lonely. Do you get lonely, Willow? Perhaps we can be lonely together?"
Before Willow could think of an appropriate response, okay before she could actually put enough words together to form a coherent sentence after receiving the full force of Draco's flirting and that sexy smirk, she felt a familiar presence approaching. She glanced to her right, not surprised to see Lucius leaving a dark alley and making his way towards her. She saw the surprise flash on his face when he saw who was standing beside her, quickly covering it with the Bad Lucius sneer of contempt. She looked at Pansy and smiled, "Is he always this insufferable?"
"I am standing right here," Draco reminded dryly, a bit annoyed that she was not affected by his obvious flirtation, instead calling him impossible and smiling at Pansy as if they were sharing a joke. Women! Did she not feel the same attraction that he was feeling? She had to be! He was Draco Malfoy, damn it! He was not used to being dismissed when he was at his most charming, especially not by a lovely American muggle-born witch. She was even more smashing than he'd originally thought, he decided as his lips curved into a pleased smile as he looked at her.
"Worse," Pansy laughed, seeing how annoyed yet intrigued Draco seemed to be by Willow's resistance of his teasing banter.
Willow laughed softly at Pansy's response, knowing that her new friend was enjoying the opportunity to tease Draco. She took another glance to the side, seeing that Lucius was nearly upon them. She smiled at Pansy, apologetically explaining, "I don't think I'm going to have time for that ice cream right now, but maybe another time?"
"Oh, well, of course," Pansy nodded, wondering what she had missed. She noticed Draco suddenly stiffen, his eyes becoming cold as he glared past them. She turned her head, inhaling sharply when she saw Lucius Malfoy approaching. She had managed to avoid all of Voldemort's followers after her parents had died and had no desire to face one of the worst ones, especially not when her new muggle-born friend was with her. She leaned forward and gave Willow a hug, whispering, "Be careful of Draco, Willow. He might look like an angel, but he's a right cruel bastard most of the time. Just tell him bye and get away, fast. I'll see you at school on Monday. I'm so glad we met!"
"Take care, Pansy. And thanks," Willow replied, a bit startled that the girl had given her a hug until she'd heard the whispered warnings. She felt guilty for having Pansy worry about her and for the fear that had flashed in her new friend's eyes when she'd seen Lucius, obviously associating him with Voldemort and her parents. She watched as Pansy left quickly, her green eyes moving to look at Draco.
"I thought I told you to stay inside the store, child," Lucius said sharply as he approached Willow and his son. He hadn't seen Draco in over a year, not since he'd bravely told him his decision and left the study. He looked good, Lucius realized. He was a handsome boy, looking a bit like him in his youth. Lucius was struck with what an attractive couple Willow and Draco would make as he saw them standing together before he slipped the mask on. He watched Draco scowl at his words, noticing the way his son looked from Willow and back to him.
"I finished my shopping and needed some air," Willow explained sweetly, "I did stay in front of the store as instructed."
"We will discuss the importance of following directions at a later time when we do not have an audience," Lucius sneered, before turning his attention to Draco, "Boy, do stand straighter. Only muggles slouch in that unattractive way."
"Father, what an unexpected pleasure," Draco snarled, the humor leaving his eyes as he glared at Lucius, unknowingly straightening his posture.
"Do not stand there and lie to me, Son," Lucius said sharply, ignoring the strange impulse to hug his son. That was Willow's influence, no doubt, the redhead always hugging her friends in an affectionate manner. Malfoys did not hug, the gesture a sign of weakness and vulnerability and completely unacceptable. Strange, then, that he found Willow's hugs to be comforting and pleasant. He watched Draco's eyes flash with anger, having no doubt that he would be hexed terribly for even attempting something as frivolous as a hug. Instead, he continued, "Considering the circumstances of our last meeting, I somehow doubt the term pleasurable describes your thoughts upon seeing me again."
"I was not lying, Father," Draco said harshly, "I was merely attempting to be polite. Forgive me for assuming you knew the meaning of the word."
"Draco, is there a problem?" Severus interrupted as he stepped towards his Godson. His dark eyes moved lazily over the pretty redhead that Draco was so concerned about, noticing that she was quite lovely and had a right nice figure, slender with subtle curves. She projected an innocence that was not common in one her age, and her eyes flashed with intelligence and strength. Yes, he could now understand Draco's fascination with the creature after that glimpse through the window. He turned his attention to Lucius, curious why Malfoy would be fraternizing with a muggle-born witch in Diagon Alley where anyone could see him. He had left the bookstore in time to hear Lucius' last statement, rather proud of Draco for remaining calm despite the circumstances.
"No, Professor. My Father was just telling me how happy he was to see me after such a long time apart," Draco said mockingly, watching his Father barely glance at Severus before smirking at them both.
"While I would so enjoy catching up with you both, I am afraid that I really must leave. It has been delightful," Lucius replied in a tone that suggested the experience of brief interaction would rank below hours of torture on a list of pleasant activities. He looked at Willow and said, "Move along, child. We have wasted enough time at this location."
"Of course, Sir," Willow muttered before looking at Draco, seeing the confusion and annoyance in his gray eyes. She smiled, "Have a good day, Draco. It was nice meeting you."
"And you," Draco replied, watching as his Father led Willow into Flourish and Botts. He looked at Snape and saw that the Potions Master was frowning as his eyes followed the pair into the bookstore. He asked, "Well, what do you suppose that is all about?"
"I have no idea, Draco," Severus said honestly, still surprised that Lucius Malfoy would be out shopping with a muggle-born witch for all to see. He sighed, seeing the look of concern in Draco's eyes and wishing that he had an explanation. Instead, he asked, "Did you get her name?"
"Willow Rosenberg. She's American and a muggle-born witch. I was unable to find out any more information because *he* intruded," Draco reported dutifully. He was rather bewitched by the redhead and had not at all been happy when his Father had led her away before he'd had much of an opportunity to speak with her. He waited to continue until they had successfully apparated back to Snape's house. Once they were standing in the drawing room, he couldn't help but ask, "Do you think he means to harm her?"
"I do not think she is in danger, Draco," Severus told the boy, "but I suggest that we keep our eyes and ears open. Lucius Malfoy is unpredictable and that makes him dangerous. Besides, I don't trust the bastard at all."
Willow allowed Lucius to direct her into the bookstore, feeling his hand tightly grasping her elbow. She looked up at him, seeing the unemotional mask that had fallen into place when they had arrived in Diagon Alley. A part of her hoped that his previous behavior to Draco was merely for show, just part of the Bad Lucius act, but she was smart enough to realize that she had witnessed his usual attitude towards his son. She had watched Lucius' face during their brief exchange, seeing the pride and affection in his blue eyes as he'd first looked at Draco before he'd quickly concealed any emotion that might be considered nice. Instead of admitting that he'd missed his son, that it was nice to see him or any other pleasant statement that would have been sincere, he'd scolded the younger Malfoy for not having good posture and things had gone downhill from there. She was rather proud of Draco's ability to hold his own against his father, knowing Lucius well enough to know when he was surprised, which he had been when his son had responded to his criticism with sarcasm and strength. She wanted nothing more than to give her good friend a hug, but this was neither the time nor the place.
"You disobeyed my instructions to remain at Madam Mankin's until I returned," Lucius reminded Willow as he led her towards the back of the store. He noticed movement out of the corner of his eye, groaning softly when he recognized the face. He looked at Willow, hoping she would understand that they now had an audience.
"I was standing in front of the store, which technically counts," Willow argued softly, "besides, you never explained why I had to remain inside the store."
"It was a test, my dear," Lucius said with a smug smile, "a test that you failed. You cannot even obey the simplest of instructions yet that fool Dumbledore expects me to work with you. Ridiculous! Further proof that your employment at Hogwarts is merely another ruse to make my life miserable."
"Yeah, well, you're no picnic either, mister!" Willow snapped sharply, glaring at him. This was kind of fun, she decided. It wasn't much pretending at the moment, since she was a bit annoyed at how easy he seemed to find it to insult her and give her orders and his treatment of Draco had just been uncalled for. Okay, so that was probably how he usually treated his son, in which case terrible father didn't even suffice as an adequate description, but it didn't mean that she wasn't irritated that he'd been so rude to his son.
"You would do well to watch your tone of voice when you speak to me, Miss. Rosenberg," Lucius said pleasantly, though there was an underlying threat to his words to anyone who might be listening to their conversation.
"If you'd quit being rude and snobby, you just might find out that I'm very intelligent and rather likable," Willow muttered as she turned away from him. She had noticed his subtle glance to the next aisle before their 'argument' had begun, finally seeing their audience when a very large man came around to their aisle.
"Malfoy, what a surprise," the man said. He gave Willow the creeps. His voice was raspy, like he was out of breath, and she didn't at all like the way his beady little eyes swept over her. She felt the need to shower when he was finished with his blatant appraisal of her body, cringing as she looked away from him before she did something stupid like hex him for leering at her. She felt Lucius move closer to her before he replied to the greeting, thankful that he, too, must not have been impressed with Creepy Guy looking at her in such a disgusting manner.
"Goyle," Lucius nodded briefly, his eyes narrowing with real anger as he saw his fellow Death Eater looking at Willow in such a revolting way. He arched his brow and smirked, "I had not realized that you knew how to read, much less enjoyed visiting bookstores."
"I was passing by and thought I saw you," John said, completely missing Lucius subtle insult. He nodded towards the fetching redhead, leering openly, "Who's she?"
"Off limits," Lucius said sharply, causing John Goyle to look at him with confusion. He looked at Willow, telling her, "Go get your shopping done, child. When I am ready, I shall find you."
"Of course, Professor," Willow agreed without fuss, wanting to get away from that Goyle man and his vulgar stares. She left the aisle, moving to the opposite side of the store. Geesh, it was a busy afternoon. Meeting Draco and now having the chance to test out their acting skills with one of the bad guys. She made a face as she began to look at the books, having a pretty good idea that Lucius would be ready to go pretty soon after having to deal with the creepy guy.
"That is my new assistant," Lucius said quietly after Willow had walked away. His eyes caught Goyle's as he suggested, "We should continue this conversation outside, where we do not chance being disturbed." The men left the store, Lucius leading Goyle to an alley where he then elaborated without fear of being overheard, "Our Lord is most excited about my new position at Hogwarts, as you know. It would not do to upset him, Goyle. That girl is off limits. Please insure that everyone is made aware of that warning. If anything should happen to her, my position would be threatened and he would be most unhappy."
"Of course, Malfoy," John nodded, knowing from experience that Lucius Malfoy was dangerous and possibly scared him even more than their Dark Lord. He was not stupid, having a good idea that Lucius had plans for the pretty little redhead even if the blond wizard did not volunteer that information. If he was able to impress Lucius with his ability to take care of the warning, he would secure a position of trust with one of the most powerful wizards in the world. He smiled, "I'll make sure everyone knows that the cute redhead is yours."
"I will remember your competence in this matter, Goyle," Lucius said smoothly, "now I must return to my assistant before she becomes suspicious. I must create some explanation for your lecherous behavior to appease her so that she does not run to Dumbledore and mention our conversation. He is already suspicious of me and the last thing I need is for confirmation from his silly mudblood that we were speaking."
"I hadn't realized you'd already started that assignment, Malfoy," John apologized, having heard of Voldemort's latest plan to infiltrate Hogwarts at the meeting only a week before. It was a right good plan considering they wouldn't have any students left at Hogwarts to keep an eye on things, and their Lord seemed very pleased with it. He didn't want to consider his punishment if he had somehow interfered with it.
"I will take care of it, Goyle," Malfoy said sharply, "do leave now. And, in the future, do not approach me in public. We must be very careful from here on out. Things are starting to fall into place, dear friend, and soon there will be no need to skulk in the shadows and alleys."
"I will see you at the next meeting, Malfoy. Do be careful at that school," John said before he turned and disappeared down the street.
Lucius watched him go, turning and sighing as he ran a hand over his face. It was rather sad that Voldemort was surrounded with incompetent wizards such as John Goyle and Charles Crabbe. Bellatrix was dead, the Parkinsons were dead, as were the majority of Voldemort's strongest supporters. The new generation of Death Eaters were as pathetic as their parents. Weak and brainless, they didn't have knowledge or skill, not like the youth in his day. His generation had been cunning and strong, powerful and intelligent. They'd managed to fight a bloody good war, had a good chance of winning if it hadn't been for that brat Potter.
Those were the days. He'd been young and thirsting for power and control. He'd believed everything Voldemort had told him, but he had not been stupid. He had covered his actions as much as possible, had a plan in place should Voldemort fail, which had happened. He hadn't been very surprised, he could acknowledge now, and had been rather pleased that he had never killed anyone or participated in the worst of the raids. He had been clean, no matter how hard the Ministry looked, and he'd used the excuse of being cursed to explain the very few things that had connected him to Voldemort. It had worked. Now, it was time to play the game again, only this time he had no plans on distancing himself from the battle. This time, he would stand up and fight for what he believed in, now that he finally *had* something to believe in. He believed in his son, he believed in Willow, and he believed in himself. Lucius took a deep breath and let it out before he left the alley and headed back to the bookstore. He hoped Willow was nearly finished. He was tired and really wanted nothing more than a hug from his only real friend.
Willow watched Lucius leave the bookstore with the Creepy Wizard, concern flashing in her green eyes as she watched her friend go off with what was obviously a bad guy. She sighed, feeling a bit helpless that her part in the plan was still annoying muggle-born witch hired to make his life hellish. He had not yet met with Voldemort and discussed his plans to use her to get closer to Potter so they could not show any signs of being friendly at all. She'd be glad when he'd had his talk with Voldy, even if he intended to make her sound like some weak American who could be easily mislead and charmed into aiding the bad guys without realizing it. Playing the part wasn't nearly as difficult as she'd imagined during their shopping trip, but this was only a few hours and they hadn't really spent much of that time together. She worried a little that she'd slip up and tease him or, God forbid, be friendly and smile at him. Once it was officially sanctioned that he could manipulate her into aiding Voldemort unknowingly, well, the occasional smile or friendly conversation would be considered part of his act. He'd probably just be praised for doing such a wonderful job of corrupting her instead of drawing suspicion to his being nice to her.
She wondered what Draco's reaction was going to be when he found his Father was the new DADA professor. Somehow, she didn't expect him to be very pleased with the idea. Lucius was counting on that, in fact, believing that Draco's mistrust and hatred of him would cause an alliance of sorts with Potter and his friends. Her mentor had spent hours thinking about his plan when had visited her before graduation, talking every detail and possible scenario out with her. She'd objected to his insistent belief that Draco would automatically assume his position at Hogwarts was some nefarious plot from Voldemort. Now, well, she hated to admit that Lucius had been right when he'd assured her that Draco didn't like him or trust him. Of course, she wouldn't have liked Lucius if she'd met him when he was normally like he was acting now. He was a big old bastard, rude and condescending and dangerous. Definitely wouldn't have made her list of people to save at all, so he was lucky she'd met him during his entire mid-life crisis thing. Instead of buying a fancy red sports car, he'd become her mentor and a double agent in a wizarding war. The sports car would have been safer, but not nearly as life changing as becoming a reluctant good guy.
Willow searched the bookshelves for the books on her list, finding six of the seven with little effort. Lucius wasn't back yet, but he hadn't really been gone long enough for her to worry. Besides, Creepy Wizard hadn't seemed very bright so she knew Lu could take care of himself if the situation arose. He had promised her extra time at the bookstore so he could very well be taking his time so she could enjoy the visit without him having to come in and demand they leave as he played the part of arrogant wizard. She finally found the section where the last book had to be, glaring at the top shelf that was just far enough above her head that she couldn't reach it. She tried, nearly dropping her other books in the process. She cursed softly, "Damn it. Stupid old shelf."
There was a soft chuckle behind her as a voice asked, "Do you need some help, miss?"
Willow felt her cheeks flush at being caught cursing at the books, turning to look sheepishly at the man standing behind her. Her eyes moved over him quickly, thankful that he didn't give off the weird vibes like Creepy Wizard had. In fact, he seemed rather nice. He was tall, taller than Xander and even Lucius. He had thick brown hair that brushed the collar of his robe, a bit shaggy on the sides and looking as if it needed a trim. Friendly brown eyes looked at her from a rather cute face. She smiled sheepishly, "I thought the shelf might get angry with me for calling it stupid and throw the book that I need at me."
"Interesting explanation," the boy laughed, "though it doesn't appear to be working."
"They just don't seem to remember that not all of us are tall enough to reach the top shelf," Willow grumbled, having to laugh as she said, "That was a really bad excuse, wasn't it? I could have come up with something better, but I had to think fast. I don't normally get caught yelling at inanimate objects, you know?"
"I've heard worst," he smiled, "my cauldron? It's heard far worse from me when I'm trying to finish a potion and nothing seems to be going right."
"Ah, yes, I've been there before, only it's usually my laptop that bears the brunt of my annoyance," Willow nodded, recalling the many times she'd end up getting frustrated when researching and start insulting the computer.
"Laptop?" he frowned, obviously not understanding her reference.
"Muggle thing," Willow smiled, holding out her hand, "I'm Willow Rosenberg, by the way."
"Neville Longbottom," he shook her hand, smiling shyly as he looked at the shelf and back at her, "Did you want me to get the book for you or do you just plan on using your wand?"
"If you wouldn't mind grabbing it for me, I'd really appreciate it," Willow said, not at all liking the idea of trying out her wand in the bookstore. She'd probably knock the shelves over or something really embarrassing. She told him, "I was trying to get 'Demons and Mythology', Neville."
"Here it is," Neville found the book and handed it to the friendly redhead, "did you need anything else?"
"No, that's the last book on my list," Willow said as she rechecked the list, "I'm all set. Thanks for helping me out and for not thinking I was crazy for scolding the bookshelves."
"It's rather nice to know that I'm not the only person that talks to objects that aren't charmed to talk back," Neville confided with a smile. "I often get teased about it by my friends, but now I can tell them that I'm not the only one with that quirk."
"Are you shopping for school?" Willow asked, thinking that he seemed the right age to be going to Hogwarts. Pansy had told her that a lot of students would be doing their school shopping this weekend, since classes started on Monday.
"Yes," Neville nodded, "I start seventh year at Hogwarts next week. Are you a student?"
"No, I actually graduated high school a couple of months ago back in California," Willow explained, finding it funny that she'd met a boy that reminded her of Xander shortly after meeting someone that reminded her of Cordelia. He wasn't as goofy as Xander, seeming a bit timid and self-conscious, but he was friendly and rather sweet. She was hoping that they could be friends, having no doubt that this boy was opposed to Voldemort just from the kindness in his eyes and the shyness in his smile. It wouldn't be bad to start off her new life with two new friends. Draco's face came to mind. She couldn't really call him a friend, not yet at least, but there was potential. If she could stop thinking about kissing him or seeing him naked, well, perhaps they could eventually become friends. Great, now she had visions of naked Draco in her mind when she needed to be concentrating on her conversation with Neville.
"California? I saw a muggle movie about California a couple of years ago. I did not understand most of it, but Hermione explained it to me. There were people surfing, I believe that's the name she used. It was very sunny and beautiful," Neville recalled.
"Yes, that would be California. Very sunny and parts of it are quite beautiful," Willow said, having recognized the name Hermione as one of Potter's best friends. Well, Lucius would be pleased. She'd made contact with that group without even realizing it. She was glad she hadn't known Neville was friends with them before they'd started talking because she didn't want to feel like she was using her new friend to get closer to the group she was supposed to befriend and assist in the fight against Voldemort. As it was, she still didn't know for certain that he was part of the Potter group, so her friendship with Neville could never be questioned as anything but sincere and, geesh, she was becoming as bad as Lucius. She was thinking too much, something she was often accused of doing but tended to deny. Right now, though, she had to acknowledge that she was putting way too much thought into what might happen from her possibly becoming friends with Neville.
"It never gets that sunny over here," Neville sighed, "it rains a lot at school and is often cloudy. My school is up in Scotland, and we get quite a bit of rain and snow during the winter."
"I know Hogwarts," Willow smiled, "I'm going to be working there as an assistant to the DADA professor this year. Snow? Really? I've only seen snow once, last year. It was kinda freaky but my friends and I enjoyed it."
"You're going to be teaching?" Neville asked with surprise, knowing that she was not even a year older than the students in his year. He was rather pleased with the idea that one of his teachers would be someone he found charming and friendly. DADA, though, was a cursed position and he was a bit worried that his new friend might suffer from that curse. Friend? Could he really call Willow a friend? They'd only just met, but he felt comfortable around her, in much the same way he felt around Hermione or Ginny. He found her to be very pretty, but he was not enjoying their conversation because of her looks. She was nice and intelligent and looked at him without judgment. Even his good friends rarely did that, too often treating him as the same overweight and incompetent boy they'd met nearly seven years before. They were nice and tried to include him in their schemes that weren't dangerous, but they didn't seem to realize that he was more capable than he once had been. He'd grown taller during fifth year, his weight becoming more proportionate with his body, but he still sometimes felt like the clumsy fat boy he had always been. He still failed miserably at Potions, though he wasn't really as scared by Snape as he once been, but he was a little above average in his other classes. Herbology was still his favorite class, where he even bested Hermione for top marks.
"I'm not teaching, just assisting," Willow replied, her green eyes moving to the door and wondering where Lucius was. She was enjoying talking to Neville, but she was getting a bit tired of all the shopping and she was kinda hungry and wouldn't mind getting back to Hogwarts to do some exploring.
"Sorry, I drifted," Neville smiled sheepishly, "I'm glad you're not going to be teaching cause the DADA position is cursed. Being an assistant, well, I'll have to ask Hermione if the curse extends to assistants."
"Cursed?" Willow arched a brow, a smile crossing her face, "What kind of curse?"
"It's kind of silly, huh?" Neville shrugged, "We haven't had a DADA professor for more than one year for as long as I know. Several have been evil wizards who were working for He Must Not Be Named, though we didn't learn about it until damage was already done. Another was a fraud and lost his memory and had to go to St. Mungo's, and another was a werewolf who got fired because people didn't trust him to teach students. I liked him a lot. Wish they'd bring him back cause he was a great teacher. You see, it's a cursed position."
"Really? Well, curses are meant to be broken, don't you think?" Willow asked, wondering if Lucius had any idea the reputation that the DADA professor position had. Knowing her mentor, he most likely did and was probably counting on the students to instantly cast him as Voldemort's follower. "Besides, the people you listed weren't cursed by the position, they already were whatever they were before taking the job. It didn't curse them, it merely made their secrets eventually known to everyone by showing them how they really were."
"I never thought about it like that," Neville admitted, "well, maybe we'll get lucky this year and have a great DADA professor who doesn't have any secrets like the others."
"Perhaps," Willow said softly, knowing that was as far from the truth as you could get. Lucius had so many secrets that she could barely keep track of them all.
"Don't worry about the curse thing, okay? You're going to be fine," Neville smiled, "I guess I will see you at Hogwarts, then?"
"I'll be there," Willow nodded, "It was nice talking to you, Neville."
"It was really great talking to you, Willow," Neville said, "I'm glad I found someone else that talks to inanimate objects."
Willow laughed, "Next time your friends try to tease you about that, you tell them that you're not alone. I do that all the time!"
"I will," Neville promised, eager to see his friends so he could tell them about the pretty new American DADA assistant that was his new friend. "I'd better go. My grandmother will start to worry. Are we friends? I mean, after school starts, can we talk like this again?"
"Yes, we're friends," Willow confirmed, watching him smile, "I look forward to talk to you again, Neville. Maybe we can have dinner one night. I have another friend I've made since coming here and she's seventh year, too, so it might be fun."
"Really? That would be neat," Neville said, not asking who her other friend was because he needed to leave or he'd be late. "See you Monday, Willow."
"Bye, Neville," Willow waved at the boy as he left the bookstore, nearly bumping into Lucius as he came inside. Her eyes caught his and she smiled softly, knowing that it was time to go. He looked tired and annoyed and seemed to really need a hug. She moved to the counter to pay for her purchases, glancing at him when he removed her wand from her back pocket.
"Really, child, treating something as important as your wand in such a manner is disappointing," Lucius remarked sharply as he put her wand into his robe pocket, "it's a wonder you didn't snap it in two with your carelessness."
"I was careful," Willow rolled her eyes, actually glad that he'd taken it and put it in his pocket. It was a bit awkward to be walking around with a ten-inch wand stuck in her back pocket, but she hadn't had anywhere else to put it and she hadn't wanted to walk around holding it while shopping. She told him, "I think I'm finished with my shopping."
"I don't really care if you are finished or not. We are leaving," Lucius told her snottily, his lips curving into a smirk as he lowered his voice, "I've bought you a surprise, Brat. We shall pick it up after you finish here."
"You really are a very rude man," Willow said, her eyes shining with curiosity as she wondered what he had bought her. She wanted to thank him and ask what it was, but someone might be listening. Blah, how annoying having to pretend to dislike him when he was teasing her with the idea of surprise gifts. Stupid old wizard. It was a very good thing that she adored him or she might very well be annoyed with him. She smiled suddenly as she figured out a way to get him back. She moved closer, lowering her voice to a whisper as she said, "You know, Draco is a major hottie. He must have inherited his good looks from his Mother." She smiled sweetly as he narrowed his eyes at her, the triumphant smirk that had crossed his face when she'd said his son was attractive replaced by an annoyed scowl as she attributed said good looks to his mother instead of Lucius. She giggled softly before turning to hand her books to the cashier.
Willow followed Lucius back into the street, hurrying to keep up with him as he moved towards the alley from which he had emerged when she was talking to Draco and Pansy. She glared at his back for not offering to help carry the rather heavy books she had had to buy, deciding this was probably her punishment for making the sarcastic remark regarding Draco getting his looks from his mother. This alley was not nearly as populated as the street outside, her eyes noticing several shops that didn't look quite as nice as the other stores she'd seen. Lucius stopped walking as he neared a small storefront near the end. He opened a door and motioned for her to step inside. She did, seeing that the store was empty. She turned to face him, her eyes widening as she noticed a small cage on the floor.
"You can speak freely here," Lucius smirked, enjoying her reaction to his surprise. He leaned against the door, his arms folded in front of his chest as he explained, "This is where I normally apparate so that I am not seen by those who need not see me."
"I so can't believe you just said that with a straight face," Willow smiled, relieved to be able to stop pretending for a few minutes. She looked at the cage and then back at Lucius, asking, "Is that my surprise?"
"No," Lucius replied dryly, "there is normally a caged owl in this abandoned store. Of course it's your surprise, silly girl."
"He's beautiful," Willow beamed as Lucius moved to lift the cage for her to get a better look. It was a black owl with gray feathers, his big yellowish brown eyes blinking at her.
"I thought you might like him," Lucius shrugged, his lips curving into a smile as he pompously declared, "rather rare breed, quite expensive. I couldn't very well have you buy some common variety owl, now could I?"
"What's his name? Is it a he?" Willow asked, not knowing anything about owls.
"It is a he," Lucius nodded, "and he does not yet have a name. That honor is up to you, my dear."
"Thank you, Lu," Willow moved into his arms and hugged him tightly, feeling his arms squeeze her as he sighed into her hair. She said softly, "It's been a rough day, huh?"
"I needed a hug," he whispered against her hair. There was a time, not a year before, that he would have flinched after such an admission of weakness. He still found it rather strange to acknowledge that something as simple as a hug from a friend could help make the day better, but he was getting better at displaying his affection. He returned hugs without grimacing, even when he'd been enveloped in a group hug following the survival of graduation. Okay, so he had grimaced a bit when he'd found himself being hugged by two slayers, the moron, the cheerleader, and Willow. He still believed that Cordelia had pinched his arse, his disbelief at such an action causing Willow to laugh until the silly girl had nearly cried. He sighed, finally releasing Willow and giving her a somewhat sheepish smile.
"Well, that's what I'm here for," Willow smiled affectionately at her mentor. She could still remember the first time she'd hugged him, following a successful spell. He'd frozen, his eyes looking like the proverbial deer caught in headlights, and he'd just stood in surprise as she'd hugged him. Gradually, he'd relaxed when she'd hug him, seeming to grow accustomed to her affectionate gestures. Now, he would often hug her as it was something he had always done. She hated to think what his childhood must have been like to turn him into such a cold and detached man, knowing that Draco had experienced the same upbringing as Lucius. She stopped her thoughts there, knowing that she didn't want to drift into thinking about hugging Draco, possibly without clothes and, damn it Willow! Have some self-control. No naked Draco thoughts, at least, not when his Father is standing right there smiling sheepishly because he's having a bad day.
"I'm ready to go back to Hogwarts. God, did I actually just utter that sentence?" Lucius cringed as his blue eyes flashed with amusement, relieved to have the act over for a few hours. He had to meet with Voldemort later, one last time before school started, then he'd only have to see the Dark Lord occasionally to report whatever results he discovered while 'undercover'. Tonight would be his discussion regarding Willow, letting Voldemort believe the plan to use her to get closer to Potter was really his own idea, as well as confirming that Severus still had no idea what was happening. The latter was the easiest to accomplish because Voldemort did not completely trust the Potions professor, not in the way he trusted Lucius. Ah, the irony, the blond wizard smirked.
"I can't believe you bought me an owl. That was so darn sweet!" Willow laughed at the pained _expression that crossed his handsome face upon being called sweet.
"Yes, well, it was merely so that you would have a bird of breeding and character," Lucius defended his actions with a slight smile.
"Right, cause you're not sweet," Willow nodded, looking at the bird. "I wonder what I should name him. I've never really had a pet, you know. I mean, I had fish that Xander named after the three stooges when we were kids before they met an unfortunate end at Angelus' hand, but I don't really think of fish as a pet since I couldn't pet them or anything."
"I am confident that you will choose a name worthy of such a fine bird," Lucius said as he gathered the supplies he had purchased for class as well as her books. "Are you ready to return to school? I would like an opportunity to have lunch and discuss your day. I noticed that you had no problems meeting new people and I am most curious about the circumstances surrounding your apparent befriending of Pansy Parkinson and Neville Longbottom."
"You say their names with such respect," Willow rolled her eyes, "what's wrong with them?"
"I'm afraid that we do not have enough time for me to provide you with a list," Lucius said snottily. His lips curved into a smile as he looked at the redhead, "Suffice it to say that I am not at all surprised that you have taken a liking to them. You do have a fondness for us strays, do you not?"
"They seemed lonely, plus they were both really nice," Willow explained, noticing that he had included himself as one of her strays.
"We shall discuss it more in depth when we return to Hogwarts," Lucius decided, also very interested to hear what she had to say about her first meeting with Draco. She had mentioned that she found him to be a hottie, a vulgar term used by her and her silly muggle friends to describe someone they believed to be attractive. He wanted to know her opinion of Draco beyond the physical. He was fully aware that his son was handsome, he wanted to know what she thought of the man that Draco was becoming.
"I'm ready, Pops," Willow said as she picked up the cage with her new owl and smiled at Lucius. Within moments, they were standing at the gates of Hogwarts. She relaxed once she saw the school, noticing that Lucius seemed much happier just being away from Diagon Alley. He hadn't been too tense when they'd been shopping for her wand and stuff, but the meeting with Draco and then running into the Creepy Wizard couldn't have been a lot of fun for him. She smiled, "Well, I'm glad that's over."
"Me too," Lucius agreed as he opened the gate for her. He had to admit, "It went far better than I ever expected. You are a first rate actress, my dear."
"I'd repay the compliment but I don't think you were acting all that much," Willow said, shaking her head.
"I have told you before that I am not a sweet good guy," Lucius reminded her, "I am seen by most people as being a rude, arrogant bastard and I have no problem at all with that perception."
"Well, I can understand why they think that way," Willow said, "you're very lucky that I know you have the ability to care deeply and you're not nearly as bad as you like to act."
"Do, please, keep that opinion to yourself! It would absolutely ruin my reputation," Lucius said haughtily, amazed that she could be so understanding and accepting. To have faced the evil that she had seen during her young life, it never failed to surprise him that she could continue to be optimistic and believe that everyone had good inside them. She could look at him, a former Death Eater, horrible husband, even worse father, arrogant bastard of a wizard, and see potential for greatness that he couldn't even see.
"No one would believe me anyway!" Willow laughed, "You've got them all fooled into believing you're some evil, selfish, sadistic bastard. While you may be arrogant and selfish and somewhat of a bastard, though in a completely loveable way, you're not evil or sadistic. Okay, so you once were, but people can change and you aren't anymore."
"Willow, I honestly don't care at all what any of them think of me," Lucius said sincerely, "there are very few people in this world whose opinions matter to me. The rest can go to Hades for all I care!"
"Well, Buffy and Faith like you so, hey, slayers on your side!" Willow smiled slightly, watching him roll his eyes.
"Oh yes, I can rest easy because those two muggles like me," Lucius said drolly.
"Watch it, Pops. They're my best friends and they could so kick your ass without even breaking a nail, even with all your magic mumbo jumbo," Willow smirked.
"Mumbo jumbo?" Lucius repeated with a shudder, "We definitely need to work on your vocabulary, Willow. The students will believe you're speaking a foreign language they've never heard before."
"Notice you didn't deny Buffy and Faith could kick your butt," Willow snickered.
"Of course you did," Lucius smiled as they neared the castle.
"See? No denial from the arrogant wizard that two muggle teenagers could wipe the floor with his pompous Pureblood ass," Willow owed him a little for how snotty he'd been during their day of shopping.
"Willow," Lucius gave her a warning look, refusing to admit that either of the silly little girls that held the title of slayer could kick his ass, as she so eloquently phrased it.
"Changing the subject," Willow laughed as she hooked her arm through his, holding the owl cage in her free hand, "what do you think about my wand?"
"Unique and entirely you," Lucius smiled down at her, brushing a kiss against the top of her head before saying, "the vampire blood does not surprise me at all. I told you when we began training that your power is natural but it was heightened by the darkness of the Hellmouth. Had you not grown up in Sunnydale, your skill would be average, that of the majority of students at this school and others like it. Because of the influence of the dark magics, though, you are in a minority of those who wield true power. There are others stronger than you, of course, but you have a gift that not many your age possess. The ability to perform wandless magic so effortlessly is what sets you apart from many wizards. Appreciate your gift, embrace it, accept the darkness that gives it strength and balance that darkness with your goodness."
"Wow, that's what you were wanting to tell me at the wand shop, isn't it?" Willow smiled softly, "I could see the nerve above your left eyebrow twitch and it always does that when you're fighting the urge to speak."
"As I'm sure you've witnessed every time your silly friend Buffy is around. That girl never pauses for a breath. It is no surprise she is an effective slayer. She probably bores the vampires until they are begging to be staked rather than listen to another mindless comment," Lucius smirked.
"I'll be sure to tell her that you miss her and can't wait to talk to her again," Willow laughed.
"Would you like me to carry the cage to the room?" Lucius asked with a smile as they entered the school.
"No, it's fine. I've got it. He's not that heavy," Willow looked at her bird, "He's very pretty. I like the subtle streaks of gray against the dark black."
"Pretty? Only you would call such a rare bird pretty," Lucius muttered, "have you thought of a name yet?"
"Yep," Willow smiled, "It was a rather difficult decision. I mean, I could simply call him Owl, because it's kinda cute, but I didn't want him to think I hadn't tried to think of a proper name for him."
"Owl? It does seem rather lacking in creativity," he agreed, "what did you finally decide?"
"Onyx," Willow said, looking at the black owl, "I thought it was perfect."
"You're right," Lucius smiled fondly at the redhead as they reached their room, "it is absolutely perfect."
"And this is Gryffindor Tower."
Willow smiled, "This is where you live, right?"
Nick nodded at the pretty redhead, "Yes, this is my place of residence. Would you like to go inside? School has not yet started so you would have the freedom to look around before the children arrive."
"Sure," Willow agreed, knowing that her friends back home would never believe that she was being given a tour of the school by a ghost. Nearly Headless Nick, as he said he was called, had found her shortly after she'd left her room. He'd been very excited at meeting her, insisting he escort her on her exploration. She hadn't refused, not wanting to offend a ghost, and he was very friendly and helpful. She had liked him the moment he called her a beautiful lady, deciding then and there that he was her favorite Hogwarts ghost. He had introduced her to various portraits as well as several more ghosts. Her head was spinning from all the names, thankfully she was usually pretty good at remembering things like that.
"Password?" the fat lady in the portrait asked Willow.
"Chudley Cannons," Nick stated.
"You know that ghosts can't use the password. I can't let her in unless *she* says the password," the fat lady reminded, eyeing the pale redhead and trying to place the face. "I don't know you, dearie. Are you a Weasley?"
"I'm Willow Rosenberg, the new assistant for DADA," Willow introduced herself, "Nick is being kind and giving me a tour of the school. Um, the password is Chudley Cannons, right?"
"Thank you, Willow," the fat lady responded before allowing Willow inside the Gryffindor common room.
"Wow, this is nice," Willow said as she stepped inside the room. It was very lovely, sofas and chairs and a nice fireplace. There were two tables with that appeared to be chess sets and a bookcase that had a variety of books on the shelves. It was warm and cozy and she could imagine how lively it must be when school was in session.
"It's always quiet when the children are gone. It comes to life when they return," Nick mused, "the whole school is lonely when they are gone."
"I can imagine it must be very different when the school is full of laughter and students," Willow said softly, moving to take a seat on a rather comfortable sofa. She had been walking with Nick for nearly two hours, since Lucius had returned to the Manor to gather his belongings to move in to Hogwarts. She knew he planned to have a meeting with Voldemort tonight, before he returned, and she hoped everything went well. She always worried about him when he had to face Voldemort, that being a given since she cared about him. She would only stop worrying when he returned and smirked and told her how easily Voldemort had fallen for his story, whatever it happened to be.
"Oh, dear," Nick suddenly said, "I hear Peeves causing trouble upstairs. I shall be right back, Lady Willow."
Willow watched him disappear, a smile on her face at his name for her. He'd been calling her Lady Willow since they met, introducing her that way to everyone. She settled back on the sofa and thought about her day. After they'd returned from shopping, she and Lucius had eaten lunch. He hadn't said a word about Draco, but he had asked her thoughts about his son. She'd replied honestly, leaving out the sexy as sin and naked thoughts part. She had told him about meeting Pansy, surprising him with the girl's comments regarding Voldemort and her parents. He had heard that she was not planning to follow in her parents' footsteps, but rarely listened to gossip so he hadn't put much faith in those rumors. The Parkinsons had been two of the most loyal followers during the current war, empty headed and easily controlled, perfect for Voldemort. He had assumed their daughter would be the same. There had been a day, when Draco was a child, when the idea of a marriage between him and Pansy had been considered, but Narcissa had refused and he'd honestly not believed the girl to be good enough for his son.
Willow had been a bit surprised by that news, blushing when Lucius had smirked at her and reminded her that he believed she was meant for his son. Changing the subject quickly before he realized that she'd been close to having naked Draco thoughts again, she'd heard about Neville's parents and the small amount of information Lucius knew about her new friend. As she'd expected, he had muttered about her becoming friends with two lost and lonely people when she was supposed to be concentrating on getting close enough to help Potter battle Voldemort. Personally, she didn't think this Potter guy would too eager to befriend some American witch, especially one that was working closely with Lucius Malfoy. If it had been her, she'd be a little suspicious if someone suddenly tried to eagerly befriend her if she was in Potter's situation, so she planned to treat him the same as anyone else.
Lucius' plan didn't really require her to be overly friendly with Potter, just close enough to be included in any fight against Voldemort. She rather believed he seemed eager for her to befriend Potter so that he could be reassured that she would be surrounded by strong wizards to protect her if he wasn't around, though she hadn't called him on this belief. It was the same reason she thought he was so intent for Draco to become part of that group, knowing Lucius worried about both of them having to face Voldemort alone or with only him by their side. God, she had been friends with him for only a year and she was already starting to think like him! Analyzing every possibility, thinking of consequences for every action, having back up plans in mind in case something goes wrong, and treating every situation important to victory seriously and thoughtfully. That thinking had helped her and the others when faced with the Mayor so she couldn't complain about Lucius' plotting rubbing off on her, and, luckily, she didn't treat every event in her life as part of the big scheme or worry about every single little action in regards to the big picture. She knew that Lucius had to do so right now, his double life, heck it was actually triple really, was complicated and stressing and he had to think about every action and how it affected everything. The real Lucius that was her friend and cared about his son and wanted to defeat Voldemort. Bad Lucius who was considered Voldemort's supported and second in command. And then there was Professor Lucius who was going to be charming and snotty while playing both sides. She couldn't wait until Voldemort was defeated and Lucius would finally have a chance to be himself, the somewhat arrogant and rude Pureblood wizard that could care about people and just wanted to be happy.
He had told her about his meeting outside the bookstore. She'd heard what happened with Creepy Wizard, whom she now knew was John Goyle, though she preferred her name for him to something as plain and simple as John. It seemed that Goyle was assigned the task of alerting the other Death Eaters to Willow's status as Lucius' assistant and, therefore, off limits. She found it a bit disturbing to realize that the Creepy Wizard was the one responsible for making sure none of the bad guys bothered her. But she knew the guy was scared of Lucius, having seen that look of admiration and fear in his eyes before he'd leered at her so she was confident that he would do everything possible to get the news out that the redheaded American muggle-born was Lucius' project. Once Lucius discussed his plans involving her with Voldemort that night, she knew that everyone would find out she was protected, in a way, which was definitely fine by her. Better to be given Voldemort's protection unknowingly because he intended to use her to gain information than to be considered a liability by such an evil bastard.
"I do apologize, Lady Willow," Nick said as he came back into the common room, smiling apologetically at the redhead who was staring at the empty fireplace with a thoughtful _expression in her green eyes.
"It's no problem, Nick," Willow smiled as she came out of her thoughts, "is everything okay?"
"Yes, Peeves was causing trouble at Ravenclaw, but I found the Bloody Baron and we put a halt to that mischief," Nick assured her.
"Peeves is the poltergeist you mentioned, right?" Willow asked, a whiny voice in her head saying, 'go into the light'. She smiled slightly, thinking of the movie that had scared Xander when they were kids. She knew exactly why he was so scared of clowns, because of that stupid doll in that movie that terrorized the little boy.
"That's him," Nick nodded, "what would you like to see next, Lady Willow?"
"Well, what have we not seen yet?" Willow asked, knowing that Lucius would not be back until late and not looking forward to returning to the room to sit around by herself.
"The dungeons, where your future classroom is located as well as Slytherin House and the Potions classroom," Nick said, confessing, "I prefer to avoid the dungeons, but I will take you down there if you wish to visit. There is also the astronomy tower. The view is phenomenal."
"That sounds great," Willow said, having no intention of asking Nick to take her to the dungeons since it obviously wasn't his favorite place. Besides, she and Lucius could check out their new classroom tomorrow, get it all ready for the first day of school. Only two more days, she thought happily. She'd see Pansy and Neville again, finally meet the other professors and Potter and his friends, and Draco would be here. Okay, so she wasn't able to ignore the attraction she'd felt for the gorgeous blond wizard, even though she knew there wasn't much of a chance of anything coming from it. Way out of her league, even if she didn't have enough to think about with Lucius' plan and her new life in the wizarding world and trying to make sure that their DADA class was the best in recent history. The latter shouldn't be that difficult considering the stories Neville told her about the past professors. Lucius may be considered a bad guy by the students aware of such things, but he was one of the best teachers she'd ever met. They might be suspicious of him, scared of him, or whatever, but they would definitely learn their Defense Against the Dark Arts. Two days until school started. She couldn't wait!
"It's rather gloomy in this room," Willow remarked as she sat on the desk and looked around their new classroom.
"Dark, dreary, drafty," Lucius added as he, too, looked around the DADA classroom.
"Yeah, those too," Willow smiled at the blond wizard. "It smells kinda funny, too."
"That would be the aroma from the Potions classroom," Lucius explained, "the supply closet is between the two rooms and, unfortunately, many of the ingredients for potions have a distinct odor."
"Definitely need some room spray," Willow said, "and maybe some flowers? Something to add some color."
"Flowers?" Lucius repeated, arching a brow as he looked at the smiling redhead.
"Pretty flowers that smell nice," Willow nodded, "a big vase right on your desk."
"No flowers," Lucius grimaced, "Imagine, my classroom with a bunch of flowers. This is the DADA classroom, not Herbology or some other frilly topic."
"They could be mine contribution to the atmosphere of the class," Willow suggested with a smile, "it would definitely prove to old Voldy that you were attempting to woo me to your side."
"Please don't call him that," Lucius said dryly, his lips twitching slightly at the idea of Voldemort learning that he was often referred to as Voldy or moldy Voldy, which was Buffy's favorite, instead of the fearful He Who Must Not Be Named or whatever lengthy adjective had been thought up lately. He gave in and smiled, "I will be unable to face him without hearing the name Voldy repeated inside my head and I fear that laughter would be suspicious and draw unnecessary scrutiny from him."
"Nah, you could come up with some explanation that he'd believe," Willow said confidently, "tell him you were imagining the defeat of Dumbledore or Potter getting zapped with some deadly curse. Add your most arrogant and rude smirk and Voldemort would cackle with delight at your sinister imagination."
"Brat," Lucius smirked, "though you are correct. I could easily conceal the true reason for my amusement with little effort at all."
"Kinda scary how good you are at the lying thing," Willow smiled fondly.
"I would never lie to you," Lucius said softly, his words sincere as he wanted to make sure she knew that she was in no danger of being the recipient of one of his better talents.
"I know," Willow replied, "cause you know I'd kick your ass if you ever did!"
"I wouldn't because I respect and trust you and I've promised myself not to lie to anyone I love. The exception being Draco in regards to my working with Dumbledore and my dislike of Voldemort," Lucius said, his lips curving into a smile as he added, "and because you'd kick my ass if I ever dared even think about it!"
"You betcha, Lu. So, what's the plan for tomorrow?" Willow asked as she swung her legs under the table, her eyes growing serious. She was pleased that she had earned his respect and trust and love, and she could even overlook his lying to Draco at the moment because she did understand his reasoning behind it even if she wasn't sure she agreed with it. It was now Sunday afternoon, the two of them preparing their classroom for the start of school. The weekend had flown by rather quickly. Friday had been shopping and then her tour of the school. Lucius had had his meeting with Voldemort, successfully luring the dark wizard into suggesting that he not alienate her but instead use her as a means of gaining inside information etcetera. Lucius had made the expected arguments about how useless she was, hired only as a way of annoying him before reluctantly admitting that she would probably be quite popular with the students because she was rather pretty and had that gullible innocence that the students would adore. After some persuading on Voldemort's part, Lucius had left the meeting with instructions to befriend her and possibly seduce her into working on their side, or at least being maneuvered into a position that would be beneficial to their side. Lucius had smirked as he explained to her that it had only required a few well-chosen statements regarding her age and optimistic view that everyone in the world was lovely to have Voldemort suggesting that they use her.
"The professors arrive in the morning to prepare their classrooms. The students arrive in the afternoon. There is a welcoming feast, the sorting and then the meal. After that, students are escorted to their rooms and classes officially begin Tuesday. We will be introduced before the sorting," Lucius smirked, admitting, "I am most eager to see the reaction of my old friend Severus upon learning that I have been given the coveted position of DADA professor."
"I somehow think he's going to be a bit annoyed," Willow snickered, having heard quite a bit about Severus Snape from Lucius. Honestly, she thought she might get along well with him if given a chance, though she doubted she had much of an opportunity. Lucius had been the person responsible for luring Snape into Voldemort's army when they were younger, using the younger man's insecurities and ambition to become a member of the Death Eaters. Severus was excellent with potions and made a great ally for Voldemort. Lucius was a master manipulator, even now, and it hadn't taken much coaxing for Snape to follow him. He told Willow that he was aware when Severus turned on Voldemort, though he was unaware of the exact circumstances that caused the decision. He had not told anyone of his knowledge, wishing to protect the younger wizard even as he hated the betrayal. In the years since, they rarely spoke and, when they did, they were cordial and polite but not friendly. Lucius had been instrumental in gaining Severus entry back into Voldemort' group, knowing without a doubt that the Potions' professor was spying again but supporting the dark haired wizard anyway.
Willow had asked why, since that was even before Lucius had started to evaluate things and change his own opinions about Voldemort. Lu had simply said that he found it amusing to watch Severus play the role and allow himself to be consumed with brooding guilt for his past deeds while attempting to pretend that he was loyal only to Voldemort. When she'd obviously found his response a bit horrific, he'd shrugged and told her that she knew he wasn't a good guy and shouldn't be at all surprised with his honest response to her question. Now that he was having to play a role himself, well, he said it wasn't quite as amusing as he once believed, but he did confess that he found it easier to spy because he had no real guilt.
He had been responsible for planning raids that resulted in numerous deaths, had been an important part of Voldemort's followers, but he had never participated in the raids and had never done anything that he felt guilty about except for his treatment of his family. She had little doubt that he still found it amusing to watch Severus wallow in guilt regarding his past instead of acknowledging that nothing could change the past and moving on with life in a manner befitting a Pureblood wizard. She had seen Snape in Diagon Alley on Friday, but honestly hadn't paid him much attention. She'd been a bit preoccupied with covertly ogling Draco at the same time she'd been acting with Lucius so she could only really remember dark hair that needed washed and dark eyes. He'd been protective of Draco, suspicious of Lucius, and hadn't given her more than a passing glance.
"Have I mentioned how much I loathe having a conversation with you and having you drift off in the midst of it?" Lucius smirked, watching the redhead smile sheepishly.
"Sorry, I was just thinking," Willow shrugged, "what did you say?"
"I merely said that annoyed would not begin to describe Severus' reaction to learning that I am the new DADA professor," Lucius smiled evilly, "he will glare and scowl upon hearing the news. He will then convince himself that I am plotting some evil scheme to kill Dumbledore or the children, or that I am planning on kidnapping Potter and delivering him to Voldemort, or whatever nefarious plot he concocts as he eats his meal. I expect a rude comment regarding my presence at the school, then a warning of some sort to watch myself or he will kill me. Depending on the length of dinner, the threat could very well be quite entertaining if he gives it a lot of thought. He has a wonderful imagination, though he rarely bothers to use it. After I am threatened and I play my part, remind me to practice my most evil and cunning smirks before the meal, he will either growl or sneer and head straight to Dumbledore. Then he will give a list of the reasons my employment at Hogwarts is as stupid as giving Voldemort an invitation to a surprise party for Potter, to which Dumbledore will nod and feast on sweets until Severus can think of nothing else to say. At that time, he will learn that my employment is a means of watching me closely and removing me from Voldemort's inner circle and leaving him with those fools that call themselves wizards. Without me there to provide actual thought and skill, Voldemort is left in a weakened state."
"And then what?" Willow asked with a smile, not at all surprised that he'd given the entire thing so much thought.
"Severus will reluctantly agree that Dumbledore is right, even though he won't actually believe it, and he will return to his quarters. I expect he will then watch my every move like a hawk, hoping to find proof that I am plotting some evil scheme so that he can catch me," Lucius said.
"What if he doesn't react that way?" Willow asked.
Lucius snorted, "I have known Severus Snape since he was eleven years old. We actually were friends, strange as that is to believe, and he is one of the few people I trust, though I'd sooner face Voldemort in a duel with a twig than admit that. I doubt that he would react in any other way than what I have mentioned. He must play his part as a spy, remember, so he will be most careful with any threats he issues. He will not threaten me for being a danger to the students or Dumbledore, instead making some excuse that would support his claims of being loyal to Voldemort without drawing suspicion to his true concerns. I am highly anticipating his reaction, confident that I will be amused with whatever story he concocts to support a threat towards me. Besides, I know he will spitting fire because I have been given the position that he has wanted to teach for over a decade. Severus angry is always highly entertaining because he rarely allows himself to show such intense emotion. Watching someone who is angry enough to kill try to act as if they are calm and rational is always such fun."
"You're such a bastard," Willow said, "and I can't believe you're excited at the idea of making him angry and causing him to worry! That's just evil!"
"Hello, not a good guy," Lucius waved his hand as he smirked, "and I appreciate the compliment. I have not been called evil with such sincerity by someone I love in such a long time. It makes me feel nostalgic and quite weepy."
"Weepy?" Willow snorted as she saw the gleam of amusement in his blue eyes and the smirk on his handsome face, "You're impossible!"
"Ah, but you love me anyway," he reminded with a smile.
"Yes, I do," Willow laughed, "evil bastard or not, you're still my Lu."
"That I am," his smile turned smug.
"So I am guessing that we are going to make ourselves scarce tomorrow until the welcoming feast?" Willow said, "Since I'm sure you will want to get the full affect of surprise and horror on everyone's faces by making a grand entrance."
"You know me well, my dear," Lucius complimented, "I intend to wait until everyone is seated before we join the welcoming feast. I can already imagine the looks of shock and disbelief on Potter and his groups' faces, as well as the glare and scowl from Severus. Not to mention a few looks of appreciation among the students that have no idea who I am, because I am a very handsome and stunning example of a wizard. I am sure there will be confusion and disbelief among the faces of the other professors, as well. And you, my dear, will be at my side so the looks of shock could easily fade to looks of appreciation and curiosity when they see the redheaded beauty beside me."
"You're just saying that to make me forget that you're going to enjoy playing the part of wicked but charming villain," Willow laughed.
"Well, yes, but you're supposed to ignore that and concentrate on the flattery, which is sincere," Lucius laughed softly. He teased, "I am certain that I will be proven accurate with my belief that you will have a throng of admirers in a short time. You are not only beautiful but also intelligent and amusing, a wonderful combination. They will be greatly disappointed to learn that you are unavailable."
"Now you're just being sweet again and making me forget the evil part," Willow smiled, before she frowned, "wait, what do you mean unavailable? I mean, I don't expect to have any admirers and I have no intention of getting involved with someone right now but what do you mean?"
Lucius smiled as he moved his hand to the silver necklace around her neck, raising it until he saw the dragon ring that she wore at the end of the chain. He moved his finger to trace the dragon, knowing that she had rarely gone a day without wearing Draco's ring since they'd met, still unaware that her acceptance of this ring was, in a way, her acceptance of Draco. He let it fall back in place, giving her an innocent smile as he said, "Why, Willow, how many times must I tell you that you belong with my son?"
"Lucius! Stop the teasing," Willow scolded, her cheeks turning slightly pink as she was reminded of Draco's face and his body and again with the naked Draco thoughts.
"Oh," Lucius arched a brow as he saw her blushing, her green eyes growing thoughtful, not at all like her usual response of laughing and telling him he was crazy. Well, well, this was interesting. Perhaps more had happened in Diagon Alley than he'd realized. He knew she had found Draco attractive. Who wouldn't? He was not being biased when he said that his son was handsome, looking a great deal like him in his youth, and he was aware of the third or fourth glances his good looks had earned him during that time, still earned him he could admit somewhat arrogantly. He had been pleased at Willow's reaction, firmly believing that his son belonged with the redhead that was like a daughter to him. Now, it seemed that the attraction may very well have gone beyond just the visual, confirmation that a relationship between the two may very well be possible without interference from him. What a delight, he decided, a slow smile crossing his lips.
"Flowers," Willow said suddenly, pulling her naughty thoughts out of the gutter, still a bit surprised that she had reacted in such a way to a guy she didn't know. Sure, he was cute, okay that word so didn't even describe the walking sex God she'd met Friday, and he seemed smart and sarcastic and confident and, wait, this was supposed to be a mental argument on why she shouldn't be having lusty thoughts, not a list to support said lusty thoughts.
"Excuse me?" Lucius asked, having missed something obviously.
Willow looked at him and smiled as she concentrated and waved her wand in the way he taught her, her eyes widening with excitement as a vase of beautiful flowers appeared on the corner of the desk, their scent sweet and the colors vibrant. She bounced, "Did you see that, Lu? I made flowers!"
"Well done, my dear," Lucius smiled proudly, before he groaned, "Wait, Willow, I said no flowers!"
The platform was crowded with students by the time Pansy Parkinson arrived to board the train to Hogwarts. She glanced at the faces around her, seeing a few that looked vaguely familiar, though most appeared to be first or second year. She walked past them with her head held high, not able to prevent her lips from curving into a pleased smile when she saw the train. Finally, it was the first day of school. She had been looking forward to this day all summer, even more so during the previous weekend.
She had a friend waiting for her at Hogwarts! True, they had only just met and a couple of hours of conversation didn't necessarily mean anything, but Pansy had felt a connection with Willow Rosenberg that she hadn't felt with many people in her life. She'd been accepted unconditionally, no judgments about her parents or her past, just a smile and a chance to show the redhead who she really was beyond the Slytherin schemer she'd been her entire life. She might have chosen the side opposing Voldemort, but that hadn't turned her into some sickeningly sweet Gryffindor who was optimistic and happy all the time. She wasn't as rude and awful as she had once been, months of loneliness had a way of changing one's perspective about things, but she wasn't overly friendly or trusting. Willow, though, had managed to break through her usual reservations about people and had given Pansy a reason to smile all weekend.
The blonde Slytherin boarded the train, straightening her Prefect badge and nervously looking at the compartments she passed. She finally found an empty one, relieved to take a seat. She had felt stares as she'd walked down the hallway, having little doubt that these people knew about her parents and had painted her with the same brush. They had no idea how much courage it was taking her to attend Hogwarts this term, knowing that her appearance on the platform officially moved her from the list of neutral to the list of Voldemort's enemies. She could easily have just finished out school somewhere else, having some money left from parents', disappearing somewhere to get away from the impending war. Running was too easy, though, and not befitting a Slytherin.
She'd grown up hearing all about the expected behavior of Purebloods and Slytherins, listening to every word and doing her best to be the perfect example of such status. She'd been told that muggles and muggle-borns were worthless, that they did not deserve to associate with Purebloods, and she'd believed it, just like all her friends. She'd never had reason to question anything she had been taught until her parents were dead. It was only then that she realized she'd spent years doing everything she was told but never learning how to think for herself. Every choice she made, even at school, had always been decided with the thought of what would most benefit her image as a pureblood Slytherin and what would her parents think.
On Friday, all of that had changed. She had made a decision without once thinking about her image or parents or anything. She had befriended a muggle-born witch because *she* wanted to, because she had liked Willow's friendly smile, because she had felt so alone for so long and this redhead had offered her a chance to be herself without being judged or condemned. For that, Willow had her trust and her friendship and her loyalty. Pansy sighed as she looked out the window, wondering how much longer it would be before they would finally be moving. She couldn't wait to get back to school.
* * * * *
Harry Potter followed Ron Weasley down the corridor of the Hogwarts Express, laughing softly as his redhead friend told Hermione a story involving the twins and mistaken identity and Fred's confused date. Ron drifted off as he stopped, gesturing into a compartment they were passing. Harry turned to look, green eyes widening slightly when he saw the form of Pansy Parkinson sitting alone, looking out the window.
"I can't believe she'd dare show her face here," Ron whispered, "not after what her parents did!"
"I must admit, it is rather surprising," Hermione agreed thoughtfully, trying her best not to show her surprise at seeing the blonde Slytherin. She honestly hadn't expected to see Pansy at school this term, not after her parents' death and the confirmation that they had been supporters of Voldemort.
"She's not responsible for what her parents did," Harry pointed out, "just because they were followers of Voldemort."
"Don't say his name!" Ron grimaced, "You know it spooks me when you do that."
"God, Ron, it's just a name," Harry said, "you give him power by being scared of him."
"Yes, I've heard that argument for years," Ron nodded, "but it doesn't spook me any less."
"Harry, you can't really think that Parkinson isn't just like her parents," Hermione said curiously as she looked at her friend. She liked to pride herself on trying to be friendly to everyone and not judging people until she knew them, but that open minded acceptance didn't really extend to Slytherin snobs who called her Mudblood and treated her like rubbish because her parents were muggles. She frowned as she told Harry, "Pansy's always been a right rude bitch, and she hates muggle-borns."
"I'm just saying that we don't know her so we have no idea why she's here," Harry said softly, shrugging, "It just bothers me that we're so keen to decide she's a follower of HIM just because her parents were and because she's Slytherin. Makes us as prejudiced as those Pureblood prats."
"I don't want to know her," Ron snorted, "I think she must be here for some scheme for You Know Who or to brag to her fellow Slytherin bad guys how her parents died heroes for their Lord."
"Ron, you're such a wanker," Harry smiled affectionately at his best friend, his green eyes moving to look back into the compartment, wishing he knew what the plan was. He had little doubt that it must involve him, hoping that this might finally be the end of it all. For six years, he had spent his life fighting Voldemort, losing people he loved, scared for those that weren't dead yet, worried that he might fail. He hoped this was the year that it finally ended.
"You're just now seeing that, Harry?" Hermione asked with a soft laugh as Ron stuck his tongue out at them both before moving into the next compartment.
"This one is empty. I proclaim it ours!" Ron called out with a laugh as he took over the silent compartment.
"Mione, what do you think?" Harry asked as he nodded towards the blonde Slytherin before looking at his best friend, knowing he'd get an honest and blunt answer from the brunette witch. He hadn't been at all surprised with the discovery that the Parkinsons were death eaters, tending to agree with Ron that a majority of that House were evil and wanted nothing more than for Voldemort to win the war. He looked at Hermione, silently asking her if he needed to be more worried than normal about the daughter of deceased death eaters or if there was a chance that she wasn't one of Voldemort's followers.
"I think that she's been a miserable hag since first year and that she's done her best to make our lives unpleasant," Hermione said thoughtfully, her brown eyes narrowing slightly as she sighed and admitted, "and I think she looks kind of lonely and scared."
"Yeah, me too," Harry echoed quietly before smiling crookedly, "C'mon, we'd better go in before someone tries to steal our seats. I wonder who Dumbledore has picked for the DADA professor this year."
"Maybe we'll get lucky and it will be a good guy for once," Hermione said happily as she entered the compartment and sat down beside Harry. The three friends looked at each other for a moment, recalling the past DADA professors and how Lupin was the only one that could be classified as a good guy, and then they laughed. Hermione shrugged, "Oh well, it was a thought! Now, Ron, finish telling me the story."
Draco Malfoy made his way past the groups of students on the platform, his head held high and a slight sneer on his lips. Snape had gone to school that morning to prepare his class for the new school term, but had refused Draco's request to accompany him. Instead, the greasy old bastard had insisted he ride the train with the other students, babbling some nonsense about it being his final year at school and enjoying the experience. When Draco had simply glared at his rather weak and un-Snapelike response, his Godfather had told him to quit whining and ride the train. Whining! Malfoys did not whine, as he'd sharply reminded Snape, earning him a smirk from the elder wizard. Draco had finally agreed to ride the train when he was reminded that he was a prefect and had a very good chance of becoming the first Slytherin Head Boy in a very long time. If the decision were still being made, it would improve his chances to arrive on the train and show that he was a responsible student who deserved the honor. His only real competition was Potty, and Draco honestly didn't think the shaggy haired wizard cared about the position. He wanted it, though, and not just because of the prestige of adding said title to his list of achievements, though that was rather nice, too. He liked the idea of being Head Boy because of the power, never denying that he was an ambitious bloke even if he was opposed to Voldemort, and because it would finally be something he was tops in, besting Potter for the coveted role. Didn't matter if Potter didn't really want the position, it was still a win for Draco. He also wanted something that his Father had never had, something that had not been bought for him, something that he had earned for himself. It would allow him to prove that he was more than just his name, that Dumbledore trusted him.
The blond wizard boarded the train, noticing that there seemed to be fewer first years this term than in the past. Not surprising, considering that there was a war being fought and Hogwarts was right in the midst of said conflict. The students that had been sent this term were loyal to the cause, their presence on the train signifying their parents' loyalty to Dumbeldore and their opposition to Voldemort. The kids were so young, probably had no idea that they were being used as a declaration of their parents' allegiance, and he only hoped they survived this year. Hell, he hoped they all survived this year. He had not had access to inside information regarding Voldemort since he had left his Father over a year before, though Snape had intended the occasional meeting during the summer so they knew a little. At times, he wished he'd never told his Father that he hoped Voldemort rotted in Hell and that he planned to fight with Dumbledore when the time came. He could have played the part and possibly learned more useful information for the cause.
As it was, he'd allowed his emotions to get away from him, something that rarely happened and had been brought on because of his Mother's death and his Father's lack of reaction to it. Snape told him that Lucius had not told Voldemort about their conversation, surprising him by saying that his Father had effectively covered up his desertion for their side with the story of him learning potions and such from Snape in order to make him more beneficial to Voldemort. Snape had learned little during his few meetings with the Death Eaters, but he had learned that Voldemort was hoping to gather his force in order to strike and defeat Dumbledore and Potter before the end of the school term. The students loyal to Voldemort would not be attending Hogwarts this term, instead beginning training with their parents and preparing to fight what was hopefully the Final Battle sometime before summer. By boarding the train, Draco had chosen his side. It felt rather nice, he had to admit, to finally acknowledge that Voldemort was a crazy old bastard and that he hoped he was defeated, even if it meant helping bloody Potter.
Draco entered a compartment, his gray eyes concealing his surprise as he looked at the blonde witch looking out the window. He sat down opposite her, arching a brow when she looked at him, unable to conceal her own shock at seeing him.
"Draco?" Pansy was flabbergasted to find Draco Malfoy sitting in her compartment, his lips twisted into a smirk as he studied her thoughtfully. She had assumed he'd be off beginning his training with Daddy Dearest, though a part of her had believed that he was too smart to follow Voldemort. She had to admit that she was relieved to see that she was not only the one that had declared loyalty to Dumbledore by boarding the train.
"So, it's like that is it?" Draco drawled lazily.
Pansy nodded, "It's like that. You too?"
"Yes, it is," Draco nodded slowly, "Gotta admit, you surprised me, Parkinson."
Pansy smiled slightly, "You too, Malfoy."
"You know me, Parkinson," Draco smirked, "Unpredictable is my middle name."
"And here I thought it was Lucian," Pansy snickered before looking back out the window. She was glad that Draco was one of the good guys, having not been at all blind to the attraction between the blond wizard and Willow during their brief meeting the other day.
"Very cute," Draco said dryly, though his gray eyes were amused. He was honestly a little surprised to see Pansy on the train, though he guessed he shouldn't be considering how her parents' had died and her reaction to the knowledge that they were, indeed, Death Eaters. She'd covered it quickly, but he'd been there when she'd found out. He'd seen the look of disbelief and denial before he'd seen the acceptance, he'd seen the way her lip had curled in disgust as she'd told him her parents were followers of Voldemort. Many of the Slytherin students had been taught the same ideology, that Purebloods were better and muggles and their like were worthless. That was how they were raised, complete snobs who believed themselves better than those around them. In some ways, it was true and Draco could acknowledge the power and money and prestige, the status and ambition of the Slytherins and their families.
Being a Slytherin or a pureblood did not necessarily make one a follower of Voldemort. He knew several families that refused to be involved in the War, regardless of the pressure and threats from their former friends. Their children would be at the school this term, an undeniable proof that not all Slytherins were evil and the enemy. Hell, he knew some Ravenclaws and even a few Hufflepuffs who would not be attending this term because their parents were followers of Voldemort, and he wouldn't be surprised to see some missing Gryffies, either. Potter and his group were finally going to realize that one's house did not indicate their loyalty or support for one side or the other, and Draco wouldn't wait to see the prejudiced little Gryffies have to admit that they were wrong all these years. True, the majority of missing students would be Slytherin, and the largest majority would be the group that had surrounded Draco during the last six years because they wanted to ingratiate themselves to him and his Father in hope that they would rewarded by Voldemort. He had always grouped Pansy into that category, finding himself pleasantly surprised to see what she was far tougher than he'd imagined. His lips curved into a slight smile as he looked out the window, wondering if the train was ever going to start. This school year was going to definitely be unlike any other, and he was rather excited for it to begin.
* * * * * *
Neville Longbottom boarded the train late. His Grandmum had forgotten the time and that had resulted in him being one of the last students to arrive at the platform. With a hug and a kiss on her cheek, he ran to board the train before it departed without him. He barely made it to the hallway when the train began to move. Pausing a moment to catch his breath, he realized that this was the last time he was going to be on the Hogwarts Express on his way to start school. It was kind of sad, he decided, wondering where all his friends would end up as well as himself. With Voldemort around, no one had given much thought beyond surviving another year. Now, they were in their final year, which meant surviving this school term would be different than the others. They wouldn't return home for the summer to return to Hogwarts in the autumn. They'd be adults, in a way, and that was almost as frightening as facing Voldemort again.
Neville walked down the hallway, searching the compartments for his friends. He had received a few owls from Hermione during the summer as well as a couple from Harry. He got along rather well with nearly everyone, but those two and Ron were his best friends. He wasn't included in some of their escapades, knowing the trio often got into mischief during the school term, but they did include him more now than ever before. Ginny would join them in whatever prank was being planned against Slytherin or in helping Harry fight the latest obstacle set up by Voldemort. He rather hoped that this year would be quiet for once, though he wasn't holding his breath. He'd heard some rumors from his Grandmum about Voldemort and a plan to build an army to attack Dumbledore and try to get Harry. Neville was concerned for both the Headmaster and his friend, but he was also worried about everyone else that was fighting against Voldemort. He wished it was all over and finished, Voldemort finally defeated in a permanent never going to be back way, hopefully defeated in such a way that others never even considered trying to take his place so the War could finally be over and life could go on.
He finally found Harry and the others. They were laughing about something, Ron making faces as he told some joke, Ginny adding her own input in a way that caused Hermione and Harry to laugh even louder. Their compartment was full. Neville didn't want to interrupt them, knowing that they'd try to squeeze over to make room for him and not wanting them to be uncomfortable on the ride to school. He glanced into the neighboring compartment and noticed that it was practically empty. Only two people were in there, a smile crossing his face as he found somewhere to sit. As he opened the door, he suddenly noticed who those two people were. Cold gray eyes swung to look at him, a sneer crossing Malfoy's face. Neville sighed, wondering if there were any other seats available farther down. He couldn't stand Malfoy, having never been given any real reason to like the blond wizard, and the idea of spending the next few hours riding in a compartment with the Slytherin that loved to torment his friends did not sound at all enjoyable.
"There's room in here," Pansy said softly, kicking Draco when the blond wizard sneered at the boy standing in the doorway.
"Great, just what we need. A Gryffie to make the trip to school seem twice as long," Draco muttered, rolling his eyes as he looked at Neville Longbottom. He arched a brow, asking sharply, "Do you plan to stand in the doorway the entire trip, Longbottom?"
"I'll find another seat," Neville decided.
"Forgive Malfoy," Pansy said, hazel eyes looking over the formerly chubby boy that had turned into a rather attractive man. He had nice eyes, she decided, giving him a slight smile as she said, "Take a seat, Neville. We won't bite."
"Um, yeah, okay," Neville stammered as he entered the compartment, his cheeks flushing slightly at her biting comment and the way her eyes had looked him over. God, Pansy Parkinson, Bitch of Slytherin, had just looked him over in an entirely female way. He wasn't accustomed to such appraisal, most his friends knowing him so long they never noticed that he wasn't still the fat kid. Willow, the pretty redhead at the bookstore, had checked him out but it had been more of a friendly look. He smiled softly as he thought of Willow, taking the seat beside Pansy, pleased that he had a new friend at Hogwarts. He had enjoyed their brief conversation and was anticipating the chance of getting to know her better. He liked the idea of having a friend that didn't constantly compare him to the child he'd once been.
"Well, isn't this cozy and fun?" Draco drawled in a tone just like his Father, though he'd deny this if confronted, giving every indication that he'd have more fun being tortured than enduring a train ride with Neville and Pansy.
"Are you always such a rude prat, Malfoy?" Neville asked before he could catch himself. He looked at the floor of the train, expecting to be hexed into next week by the blond wizard, cursing himself for speaking without thinking.
"He's usually much worse," Pansy smiled, seeing the surprised smile cross Draco's face at Neville's words.
"I prefer the term bastard to prat, Longbottom," Draco smirked, deciding that there might be more to this Gryffie than he'd previously thought. He watched Neville look at him in surprise, adding, "Do remember that next time you attempt to insult me. We really must work on your delivery, though. A proper insult should be delivered with conviction and less hesitation. And never look away without seeing the full result of said insult. That is the fun, after all."
"You're not going to hex me?" Neville stuttered, wondering if Draco was feeling all right. He'd never expected for the Slytherin to smirk at being insulted by one of Potter's friends and then give him direction in properly insulting someone.
"I can if you wish," Draco drawled, "but the idea doesn't appeal to me at this time. Can't very well get caught hexing on the train to school and still expect to be named Head Boy, now can I?"
"Head Boy?" Neville nodded, admitting, "Yeah, we all figured you'd get that this year. Hermione as Head Girl and you as Head Boy. That's the bet around our House."
"Interesting to know," Draco said, a bit shocked to find out that the Gryffindors were betting on him being Head Boy. Potter must be hating that, he decided with a slight smirk.
"You're a miserable pr...bastard, Malfoy, but you're a logical choice," Neville said, not bothering to tell the blond wizard that most of his House hated the idea of him being Head Boy and only bet it because it was the likeliest possibility. Harry had terrible grades and wasn't the most responsible student at Hogwarts, not to mention the constant threat from Voldemort. Draco did earn his grades and he took the responsibility of being prefect very seriously, though he had used it as a chance to take away points from Gryffindor much in the same way Ron had used it to take away points from Slytherin whenever possible.
"Well, we'll see if Dumbledore agrees," Draco decided, taking a pessimistic viewpoint so that he would not be disappointed if the title was given to Potter. It wouldn't surprise him at all if the annoying Boy Who Lived received the position simply for being Voldemort's greatest threat, but a part of him believed that Dumbledore was fair and would evaluate the candidates in such a way. He knew he was a rude bastard, arrogant and sometimes cruel, but he could also be charming and did spend a lot of his time helping students with their studies and watching out for them. Just because he didn't worship Potter, he tended to be known as a troublemaker. A few pranks, rather amusing in fact, and the occasional, okay often, insult to that small group gave him the reputation of being mean and evil.
What a laugh! Potter and his group had done just as bad as he had, playing pranks on him and his House. Weasel loved to fight at any opportunity and must have a plaque honoring him for having so many detentions, Granger was as pompous as he was but she wasn't known as an arrogant snob, and Potter liked a good argument but wasn't considered sarcastic and rude. He shook his head slightly, knowing it was pointless to dwell on the Head Boy thing until after the chosen was announced. He was a bit annoyed that Neville had joined them. He'd been just about to start questioning Pansy about Willow, having been unable to get the beautiful redhead out of his mind since first seeing her through the pet store window. With Neville there now, well, Draco wasn't about to admit to finding a muggle-born witch intriguing or acknowledge that he was somewhat smitten after just a few moments of conversation and he definitely didn't want to get into his worries about her being with his Father.
He leaned back against his seat, Pansy opening a magazine and flipping through it as Neville began to read a book, the two making polite conversation regarding their reading material. Draco snorted softly, knowing the Headmaster would be greatly pleased if he could see this. A Gryffindor sharing a compartment with two Slytherin. Well, he had said this was going to be a strange year, the sight of Pansy and Neville discussing a history of magic book confirming that belief. Draco half listened to them so that he could make the appropriate sarcastic remark if necessary, turning his head to look out at the window as his thoughts drifted back to Willow and his Father and then back to the pretty redhead. His gray eyes watched the passing scenery as the train made its journey to Hogwarts. He'd be glad to get to school, get the Welcoming Feast out of the way, find out if he'd made Head Boy, and then he could question Pansy about Willow. He didn't really understand his reaction to the redhead, having spent most the weekend thinking about her and said reaction and still being no closer to any definite conclusions. She was beautiful and had lovely eyes and a great smile and she'd resisted his flirting and had been sarcastic in the way he loved and she seemed to be smart. She'd also been escorted by his Father, a definite cause for concern. He decided that he'd make having a chat with Pansy about her new redheaded friend a priority once they arrived at school. He looked away from the window, snorting as he responded to a foolish comment Pansy made, smirking as he began to debate with his two traveling companions.
Willow looked up from the sofa when Lucius' door opened, a smile crossing her face as she took in her friend dressed for the welcoming feast. He was wearing a blue robe trimmed with silver and the material looked more expensive than anything she'd seen at the store where she'd bought her robes. She let out a whistle as she teased, "Looking good, old man!"
"How muggle of you," Lucius smirked, his hand smoothing out the folds of his robe as he moved to sit opposite her.
"Thanks," Willow smiled, trying not to laugh as Lucius primped. He was worse than Cordelia, which was really saying something. His hair was perfect, left loose in such a way that it framed his face. The color of the robe went beautifully with his white blond hair and brought out his blue eyes. He was nervous, she realized, though he was doing his best to conceal it. They had spent the day in their rooms while the other teachers had arrived. She'd practiced a bit with her wand, starting to get more comfortable using it, and Lucius had worked on lesson plans when he wasn't training with her. Now, though, it was nearly time for the welcoming feast.
"Brat," Lucius muttered as he leaned back in his chair, a smug smile crossing his lips as he said, "I do look good, don't I?"
"You know you do," Willow rolled her eyes before saying, "but I thought we were expected to wear black robes. Isn't that the standard uniform?"
"I am a Malfoy," Lucius said loftily, "I have little use for expectations nor do I wear a uniform. Besides, that is not necessarily the standard for professors. I have seen nothing in writing stating that a professor must dress in a manner similar to the students. As my assistant, I assume you are expected to follow the rules of the students, which means those horrid black robes."
"So you get to prance around looking all cute in your colored robes and I'm stuck wearing black all the time?" Willow snorted, "That is so not fair! I think I'm going to write a letter of protest to Dumbledore or something. Okay, so I don't really care what color robe I'm wearing, but I think wearing black constantly must get a bit tedious."
"The color looks lovely on you," Lucius complimented, "though I do prefer the dark green robe you purchased. The edging in silver is superb!"
"Slytherin colors, right?" Willow laughed, "I knew you'd love that when I saw it."
"I believe that you should wear that robe to dinner this evening," Lucius smiled slowly, "we must look our best since I am quite confident we will be the focus of attention when we enter the Great Hall."
"I hate people staring at me," Willow made a face, before saying, "and, hey, you just said that assistants follow the students' rules. School hasn't even started and you're already trying to lure me into breaking rules. Not good, Lu!"
"It is dinner, not class," Lucius reminded, "besides, rules are made with the intention that they will be broken."
"Yeah, and it would also be a rather subtle way of showing your influence over me," Willow smiled smugly, seeing his look of admiration.
"Quite right," Lucius smiled, "very subtle, but it would show Voldemort that you are impressionable and trusting, willing to break a few minor rules to please me. He will find that most satisfying and believe that I am making slow but worthy progress in manipulating you to our purposes."
"You know, I'm not sure if I should be proud or worried that I'm starting to overanalyze everything just like you," Willow mused.
"Be proud that you are intelligent, Willow," Lucius said softly, "I am."
"That means a lot," Willow smiled as she stood up and gave him a hug, brushing her lips across his cheek as she said, "I'll go change into the green robe. Give me a few minutes."
"Take your time, love," Lucius replied, "the students are just arriving so it will be a while before they are all seated and the sorting begins."
Willow changed quickly, having to admit that the green robe did look pretty darn good. She was grateful that she'd listened to Pansy and had the robes fitted. They were very comfortable but still managed to enhance her figure. Her breasts weren't overly large and she was too skinny, she knew, yet the robe fit in such a way that it was like hello boobs, where did you come from? And she didn't look skinny or gangly at all. Instead, she looked slender and somewhat curvy. She'd never been very curvy before, though the usual baggy T-shirts she wore didn't really promote breast attention. She left her hair loose, falling down her back with just a slight curl that she got from a nifty charm without the stress of using a curling iron. She looked at her image in the mirror, smiling as the mirror told her she was beautiful. She didn't know if she'd go that far, but she did know that she didn't look that bad. She walked back into the common room, greeted with Lucius' whistle.
"You look good, Brat," Lucius smirked as he stood up, having imitated her earlier whistle upon seeing her.
"That was so muggle of you," Willow said snottily, her eyes flashing with amusement.
"Thank you, my dear," Lucius mock bowed, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief as he said, "I believe you are now an acceptable dining companion."
"Speaking of dining, I'm getting pretty hungry," Willow smiled sheepishly, "is it almost time for food?"
"I suppose we can go now," Lucius decided.
"Don't worry, Lu. It's going to be fine," Willow said softly.
Lucius looked at her and smiled slightly, "You really do look beautiful this evening, Willow. I am confident that Draco will agree."
"Thank you, Lucius," Willow smiled at the compliment, deciding to ignore the comment about Draco. She tried to tell herself that it was because Lucius was stubborn as hell and hadn't given up his belief that she and his son belonged together during the nearly fourteen months they'd been friends. It wasn't like she wanted Draco to look at her and find her beautiful and possibly have some naked Willow thoughts. Nope, not at all. She was busy with Lucius' plan and the fight against Voldemort and her new job and now her new friends.
She didn't need complications, no matter how gorgeous and sexy and sarcastic and yummy the complication might be. Besides, it wasn't like Draco wanted to be a complication. They'd only met briefly and, while there had been hints that the attraction might have been mutual, she just didn't think someone like him could ever be interested in someone like her in that way. Add to that the fact that she was working directly with his Father and was unable to be completely honest with the young Malfoy and, well, she didn't even know why she was wasting the time thinking about something that was completely hopeless. She drew herself from her thoughts as she followed Lucius into the hallway, smiling as she asked, "Are you ready?"
"Yes," Lucius smiled slyly, "I believe it shall be quite an entertaining meal."
"Only you would consider shocked stares and suspicious glares entertaining," Willow laughed softly.
"What can I say? I am a bad guy," Lucius reminded with a smirk. He offered his arm to her, the smirk replaced by a sneer as his eyes became guarded and cold, "Shall we go to dinner, Willow?"
Willow took his arm, the smile fading from her lips as she took a deep breath and prepared herself to begin the act. She let it out slowly, giving him a polite but friendly smile as she said, "Yes, Professor, I think I'm ready for dinner."
The train trip to Hogwarts passed quickly for Pansy. She, Draco, and Neville spent the hours discussing a variety of topics, from subjects to professors to Quidditch. She was relieved to have someone talking to her, a bit surprised that Neville was being friendly to her and Draco. She had honestly never thought much about the clumsy and awkward Gryffindor unless it was amusing to ridicule him for some reason. He had grown into a tall and rather good-looking young man, though he maintained a shyness and vulnerability that was rather charming. She knew of his parents from stories she'd heard whispered when she was a child, and was aware that the Longbottoms had been sent to St. Mungos by Voldemort's Death Eaters. She found it amazing that he was now seated in a compartment with two Slytherins, one of whom was proven to have Death Eaters as parents and the other whose Father was rumored to be Voldemort's favorite. She had no idea if he would continue to be friendly to her and Draco once they were at school, but she was rather thankful that she had had an opportunity to realize that there was far more to Neville than she had ever thought. She sighed as she caught Draco's eye, a bit nervous as she said, "The train is nearly at Hogsmeade."
"Do you suppose we shall survive this term?" Draco mused as his lips curved into a smirk that did not betray his own concern about what awaited them all this school year.
"I shall be quite happy if we survive arriving at the station and make it to Hogwarts," Pansy said loftily, laughing weakly before her hazel eyes grew serious. She asked Draco, "Do you think You Know Who plans to attack tonight?"
"Parkinson, do you really think he will attempt to strike before he is confident of success?" Draco arched a brow, a thoughtful gleam entering his gray eyes as he said, "I believe that he will need six months, at least, to properly train his newest recruits. They aren't the brightest wizards and witches of the world, after all."
"What are you talking about?" Neville asked quietly, his eyes looking back and forth from Pansy to Draco. He knew it was rather foolish for him to be friendly with the enemy, as both the Slytherins had always been considered, but he'd found himself enjoying his time with them during the trip to school. Draco was a right smug bastard but he also rivaled Hermione as being the most intelligent student Neville had ever met. He'd have never thought Draco was all that smart, having never spent any time with the blond wizard and usually being on the receiving end of the sarcastic wit did not put him in a position to appreciate it.
Now, though, for whatever reason, Malfoy had treated him as an equal and they'd had several interesting conversations. As for Pansy, the blonde witch had always been rude and sneering, her attitude causing her to be one of the ugliest and most wretched people Neville had ever met. Today, though, she'd been almost friendly, smiling shyly and seemingly grateful that he was talking to her. He knew about her parents, of course. Anyone that could read the Daily Prophet was fully aware that the Parkinsons were Death Eaters and had been killed during a muggle raid by ministry representatives. He had been a bit suspicious when he'd first joined them in their compartment, wondering if they were being polite to him as a means of getting to Harry. Gradually, though, he'd realized that he was seeing glimpses of who they really were behind the act. It was rather startling for him to realize that he rather liked them both, despite the arrogance and Slytherin attitude. He could imagine his friends reactions if they could have seen him learning the art of the perfect insult from Malfoy or having a discussion with Pansy about Herbology.
"You haven't heard?" Draco looked at Neville, somewhat surprised that there hadn't been at least rumors going around concerning Voldemort's latest action. He'd spent his summer with Snape so he had no idea what had been happening everywhere else, but he had assumed there had to be talk regarding Voldemort's plans.
"I'm not sure what I'm supposed to have heard," Neville said slowly, a curious gleam in his eyes, "I heard my grandmother talking about You Know Who recruiting, but that was just whispered gossip she heard from some friends."
"It's not gossip," Pansy informed Neville softly.
"What? He's gathering an army?" Neville straightened up, his eyes serious as he shook his head slowly, "No, it can't be. Surely someone would try to stop him."
"How?" Draco snorted, "No one can kill the bastard except for Potter, and Scarhead hasn't been very successful in the past. Do you have any idea how bloody annoying it is to have your fate resting in the hands of that shaggy headed brat? If he fails, we all die. If he succeeds, we're stuck with him as the hero of the wizarding world. I'm not sure which choice is worse."
"You, I mean, you're not following You Know Who?" Neville asked Draco carefully, knowing that Slytherins had a tendency to be cunning and not at all sure if this wasn't some act to get to Harry through him.
"His name is Voldemort," Draco sneered, rolling his eyes, "How does anyone except to defeat the bastard when they're all too scared to say his name? And, no, I am not a follower of that wizard. I'll gladly show you my arms if you need proof, Longbottom."
"I believe you," Neville said simply, realizing that his words were truthful. He did believe that Malfoy was against Voldemort.
"Really?" Draco drawled, gray eyes studying the brunet Gryffindor, a bit surprised when he saw that Neville did believe him.
"What's going on with You Know...I mean, Voldemort?" Neville asked, cringing slightly as he said the name.
"He's gathering the new recruits for training," Pansy replied, "I guess he's lost a lot of his force so he's bringing them in early. They won't be at school this term. In fact, no one that supports Voldemort, whether they're part of his Junior Death Eaters or just sympathizers, will be attending or sending their children to Hogwarts this year. By stepping on the train, you were unknowingly declaring your loyalty to the cause."
"So you two are now considered the enemy, just like Harry and the rest of us?" Neville asked, wondering if his friends had any idea what was going on. Somehow, he doubted it. Ron and Ginny might have heard something if their Father knew about it, but Harry and Hermione spent their summer in the muggle world. They would have no idea that the customary train ride to school was being used to determine sides in a War that was imminent.
"I'm nothing like Potter," Draco said sharply, his lips curving into a smirk as he said, "I'm far better looking and much more intelligent. But, yes, we will now be considered enemies by Voldemort and his followers. And you just thought it was a normal ride to school."
"Your friends, that's why they're not here," Neville realized, having wondered why Draco hadn't been surrounded by Crabbe and Goyle.
"I would not consider those people my friends," Draco said seriously, "I never have. Parkinson, perhaps, but the others were always brainless morons that didn't deserve to wear a robe or carry a wand."
"Thanks," Pansy smirked, "I love you too, Malfoy."
"Bitch," Draco drawled lazily, gray eyes amused as the train started to slow down.
"Bastard," Pansy drawled back, her nervousness fading slightly as she bickered with Draco.
"Slytherins," Neville said loftily as he smirked at them both. The three looked at each other for a moment before starting to laugh.
"Not bad, Longbottom," Draco said, "better delivery though we really must work on the insult. Being called a Slytherin is a compliment, especially coming from a whiny Gryffy."
"The smirk was a nice touch," Pansy complimented as she stood up and gathered her things.
"I have to tell you both that I admire what you've done," Neville said seriously, his smile fading as he caught their both eyes, "I know it had to take a lot of courage to board the train back in London. I'm glad you're on our side."
"This is getting so sweet that I feel rather ill," Draco said dryly, rolling his eyes as he smiled smugly, "Besides, Longbottom, it is you that is on *our* side. Won't Potter be surprised to learn that he's on my side? I do hope someone is around with a camera to catch that look of dumbstruck realization. Wait, that dopey look is Potter's normal facial _expression so it might be difficult to see the difference."
"You're such a bastard, Malfoy," Neville rolled his eyes as he stood and moved to the door of their compartment. He gave them a smile as he said, "I'll see you both later. And I meant what I said. Be careful."
"I rather like him," Pansy declared as Neville left the room.
"And here I thought I was imagining the flirting," Draco rolled his eyes.
"I was not flirting!" Pansy denied, glaring at him when he smirked at her, "Oh, shut up!"
"He's not that bad, for a Gryffindor and one of Potter's silly little band of twits," Draco decided, gray eyes catching hazel as he said softly, "He can be trusted. That means a lot these days."
"You know, Malfoy, I'm glad that I'm going to be fighting this War with you by my side," Pansy smiled slightly. Her eyes flashed with amusement as she added, "After all, you're much taller than I am so it will be very easy to duck behind you to avoid being cursed if the need ever arose."
"Is it just me or does there seem to be less students this year?" Hermione asked as she looked around the platform.
"It's not just you," Harry agreed, "it's not nearly as crowded as usual. And look at the first years. There can't be many more than thirty. Last year we had nearly seventy."
"You guys think too much," Ron declared as he listened to their conversation.
"He's just saying that because he has yet to master the concept of thinking," Ginny said, earning her a glare from her big brother.
"Seriously, guys, something seems a bit off," Hermione rolled her eyes, not in the mood to hear more Weasley bickering. The entire train ride was spent hearing stories from the redheads, laughing and just enjoying what would be the final trip to Hogwarts for a start of term for the seventh years. Now, though, she was noticing that something seemed different and she hated that she couldn't figure out what was bothering her.
"What's wrong?" Neville asked as he joined his group of friends. He'd been looking for them since he left the train, wanting to tell them what he'd learned from Draco and Pansy about Voldemort.
"Neville! Where were you?" Harry asked as he smiled at his friend.
"Oh, I was late and barely made the train. I found somewhere to sit and figured I'd find you when we got here," Neville explained.
"We missed you," Hermione said with a slight smile at the handsome wizard. She looked back at the students that were boarding the carriages to school, frowning as she told him, "Harry and I were just talking about how few first years there are this term. Something seems odd, but neither of us could figure out what."
"They were right," Neville said softly, his eyes looking around the group of students. He felt four sets of eyes on him and shrugged, "Um, well, I heard something on the train."
"Who is they?" Ron asked curiously, "And what did you hear?"
"I'll tell you on the ride to school," Neville said, lowering his voice as he said, "I don't think many people know what's happening and I don't want to scare anyone."
"Not working," Ginny frowned, "you're starting to scare me. C'mon, let's get a carriage!"
The youngest Weasley moved past the groups of students and found an empty carriage, moving to it before anyone else had a chance to claim it. Within five minutes, the five students were settled and on their way to school. Neville noticed Pansy and Draco leaving the train and gave them a small wave and smile. He was pleased when Pansy returned the wave and smile, though Draco merely nodded in his direction and smirked, but it was the friendly smirk and not the 'you disgust me go away' smirk that commonly graced the blond wizard's lips. When Neville was seated in the carriage, he explained to his friends what he'd heard about Voldemort and the gathering of his newest recruits. He had barely finished by the time they arrived at Hogwarts, so he had been unable to hear his friends' reactions to the news.
They joined the other students in the Great Hall, taking their seats at the Gryffindor table. It was only then, as they were waiting for the remaining students to arrive, that his friends began to speak. Harry was first, sighing as he said, "That would explain why there were half the first years this term than last year."
"Who told you all this, Neville?" Hermione asked curiously, thinking that it made a lot of sense.
"A couple of new friends," Neville said vaguely, not caring if his friends knew that he'd been talking to Draco and Pansy, but figuring it would make them less likely to consider the information valid.
"Do you think Dad knows about this?" Ginny asked Ron, having not heard a word from their Father during the summer regarding Voldemort gathering new recruits to train.
"I don't know," Ron shrugged, "I think we'd have heard something if he knew, but it might be something he'd try to keep from us so we didn't get worried or scared."
"Okay, so we can assume that Voldemort," Hermione rolled her eyes when Ron gasped, "get over it, Ron. Harry's right. We need to be able to say his name."
"We can't very well fight someone when we're too scared to even say his name," Neville agreed, thinking that Draco was right in that belief.
"That's what I've been saying for years," Harry said, thankful that some of his friends were finally starting to listen to him.
"We can assume that he is either in need of people since he's calling in students or that he has plans that require a small army," Hermione said.
"And here we were hoping for a quiet final year," Ron grimaced.
"Maybe this will finally be the end of it all," Harry said hopefully.
"Guys, you're not going to believe this, but guess who just walked in?" Ginny said in a surprised voice.
"God, its Malfoy!" Ron frowned, "What the hell is he doing here?"
"I'd think it was rather obvious, Ron," Neville said dryly, "he's on our side."
"He and Pansy, they were the ones that told you everything," Hermione figured out, her eyes catching Neville's as she asked seriously, "Do you trust them, Neville?"
"Yes, I do," he nodded. He looked at Harry and said, "I was a bit suspicious when I first sat with them. But, now, I do believe they're not the enemy. He hates Voldemort and wants to see him defeated. He's still a smug bastard and she's a bit of a snobby bitch, but they knew exactly what boarding the train meant. They made their choice and I think they're both a bit scared though they'd never admit it."
"I'm not very surprised," Hermione said, "Malfoy is an arrogant prat but he's not stupid. Far from it, in fact, though I'd never admit that to him."
"How can you say that? He's called you mudblood since our first year," Ron argued, finding it difficult to believe that Malfoy was anything other than a bastard.
"He hasn't called me that in a while, actually," Hermione said, "Besides, I said that I wasn't surprised that he turned against Voldemort, not that he was a nice guy."
"He'd hex you if you dared call him a nice guy," Neville smiled slightly.
"What about Lucius?" Harry asked, knowing from experience that the elder Malfoy was extremely dangerous as well as being one of Voldemort's favorites.
"I got the impression that Draco hates his Father's allegiance to Voldemort," Neville said, realizing that he was saying the name now without cringing, "and that he doesn't really like Lucius that much. He didn't say a lot about him, mostly in passing, and usually accompanied with a sneer or a rude comment."
"When does Malfoy ever say anything that isn't a sneer or rude?" Ron asked, rolling his eyes, "He's an obnoxious prat."
"I trust you, Neville, but I don't trust Malfoy," Harry said slowly, "if he's sincere, we'll know soon enough, right? It definitely wouldn't be that bad having him on our side. He might be a prat, but he's smart and he's strong."
"Look at how few students there are at the Slytherin table," Ginny pointed out as Dumbledore stood and began his welcoming speech. The students were quiet as they listened so she whispered so they wouldn't draw attention to their continuing discussion.
"More than I expected to see," Hermione admitted, "I would have expected the entire table to be empty."
"It's not just Slytherin," Harry said softly, glancing around the Great Hall and noticing the differences. He sighed, "Look at Ravenclaw. There are empty seats that weren't empty last year. Hufflepuff too. Thankfully, I see most of us Gryffindors here."
"There must be a hundred students missing, at least," Hermione said quietly, having difficulty figuring out an exact number because she hadn't paid much attention to the houses of the students that had graduated last year so she could only come up with a rough estimate.
"Some of them might just have parents that want to remain neutral," Neville said, "especially the younger students. I expect he's only training the seventh years. They'd have learned enough at school to be useful and be old enough to make a difference in a fight. That's still at least fifty students, but it's not nearly as bad as a hundred."
"The Slytherins look pretty scared," Ron frowned, "like they expect You Know Who to show up at any time and AK them all. They must know what being here means, must have been told by their parents. Damn it, I refuse to admire Malfoy. I don't care if he's really on our side and it took a lot of courage to make his choice. He's Malfoy and that's that!"
Harry had to smile at Ron's adamant refusal to think highly of Malfoy regardless of the circumstances, agreeing with his redhead friend. He laughed softly, looking at his friends and smiling, "Well, we know that Voldemort is training a small army so he can continue fighting this war. We can also assume that we're going to face him once he feels confident enough to attack. Really, it's not like things could get any worse, right?"
Before any of his friends could respond to his question, the doors to the Great Hall opened, interrupting Dumbledore's welcoming greeting. Harry's eyes widened and his face paled as he saw a familiar figure enter the room. Across the room, seated at the head of the Slytherin table, Draco Malfoy frowned as he saw his Father walk into the Great Hall. Gray eyes flashed with suspicion and concern as his right hand found his wand, ready to defend any attack that might occur. Lucius Malfoy entered the room, a sneer on his lips as his cold blue eyes swept over the tables of students. His left hand smoothed out the folds of his expensive pale blue robe as he received the attention that he had expected. He looked at Albus, his lips twisting into a smirk as he saw the twinkling blue eyes looking at him knowingly before the older wizard quickly covered his amused reaction.
Trust the old buzzard to know he'd wish to make a grand entrance. He began to walk towards the front table, deliberately pausing and taking Willow's hand and placing it on his arm. He gave off every impression that he owned the world, a confidence that rarely failed him. He almost laughed when his eyes passed over Potter and his gaping friends, finding their shock and horror amusing. His eyes did not linger, though he noticed Neville saying Willow's name and looking at the redhead with worry and curiosity. He discretely looked at his son, pleased when he saw Draco's suspicious eyes following him, having no doubt that his son was clutching his wand, prepared to fight if need be. Good boy, not allowing his surprise or fear to override his courage and intelligence. He reached the Head Table, allowing Willow to move ahead of him, politely holding the seat for her as she sat down before he sat beside her. He had barely sat down when Albus spoke.
"I believe introductions are in order," Albus said, fully aware that the attention was focused completely on Lucius and Willow. He resisted the urge to sigh as he looked at the tables, noticing the empty seats all too easily. The Slytherin table alone was missing nearly a hundred students from second to seventh year. Lucius had told him what to expect so he was prepared, but it was still a sad day to realize that so many young people would be following Voldemort without question. He could feel the nervousness, curiosity, fear, and concern in the air after Lucius had made his entrance. Albus smiled as he said, "May I present the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Lucius Malfoy, and his assistant, Willow Rosenberg. Now that everyone is here, we shall begin the sorting. First years, please come forward."
"I can't believe this," Draco muttered when he heard Dumbledore's introduction. His Father was going to be the new DADA professor. Lucius Malfoy, second-in-command to Voldemort, Death Eater for over two decades, was being given a position of authority in a school full of wizards and witches that were loyal to Dumbledore and the cause. Draco scowled as he looked at his Father, seated at the Head Table with that smug smile on his still handsome face, probably plotting all the ways he could kill Dumbledore and everyone else and then kidnap Potter to hand deliver to his Dark Lord. Draco's eyes moved away from his Father to look at Willow. Well, at least he now had an explanation for why the two had been shopping together on Friday. She was Lucius' assistant.
Gods, she was beautiful. She looked gorgeous in her robe, her hair falling around her face like that. When he'd seen her in town, she'd had her hair pulled back and had been wearing muggle clothes. Seeing her in a robe of Slytherin colors with her eyes shining with excitement and curiosity, he couldn't stop himself from wondering what she'd look like without the robe and concentrating on him with that same look of excitement and perhaps desire and, shaking his head quickly, his scowl deepened as he turned his attention back to Lucius. He didn't like his Father working with Willow at all, not trusting the elder Malfoy, knowing that his Father had to be up to something. Now, he just had to figure out what.
"He can't do anything, can he?" Pansy asked softly, "Not here at school. He wouldn't, would he?"
"He could curse Dumbledore easily from where he's sitting. Within five minutes, he could be over the table, carrying Potter to Voldemort. If his plan was to do that, we'd already be watching him leave with a triumphant smirk," Draco said slowly, knowing his Father well enough to have little doubt that the elder Malfoy would have no problem in succeeding in such a task. He hated his Father for blindly following a wizard that didn't deserve loyalty or worship and for being an uncaring bastard who had never given him what he so desperately wanted and for being a terrible father and for a lot of other reasons that the blond wizard didn't want to start thinking about during a time that he needed to be focused and alert. He looked away from Lucius, gray eyes looking at his Godfather. Snape was glaring at Dumbledore, dark eyes angry and thoughtful. It would appear as though his Father's employment at Hogwarts was a surprise to everyone except the Headmaster. Gray eyes grew thoughtful as he tried to figure out a reason for what was happening even as he kept a suspicious eye on his Father, just to make sure the blond wizard didn't attempt to curse anyone.
"What's his plan, then?" Pansy whispered, hazel eyes moving to Willow. She smiled when the redhead smiled at her, relieved that her new friend still wanted to be friends. She was worried, she had to admit, about the American witch working closely with Lucius Malfoy. He was scary and dangerous and he hated everyone that wasn't a Pureblood or follower of Voldemort, and she wasn't really sure if he didn't hate most of them, too. Even as a child, she'd been scared of Lucius. One look from those cold blue eyes or a few well-chosen words spoken in that soft but forceful voice would send her scurrying away. Even now, she had to wonder if she wouldn't hide under the table if he looked at her with one of the trademark Lucius' glares.
"I expect it's the same old thing," Draco snorted, "keep an eye on Scarhead and Dumbledore, report back with any information, plan some evil scheme or another. Nothing very original, though I am surprised that it was my Father this year."
"Why would Dumbledore offer him the position? It's common speculation that Lucius is loyal to Voldemort," Pansy pointed out, rather pleased that she said the name with only a slight hesitation this time. She frowned as she added, "It really doesn't make any sense why Dumbledore would invite the man who is rumored to be second to the Dark Lord to teach at the school when all the students following him were being pulled out. Hogwarts would have finally been free of spies."
"That's it," Draco slowly smiled as he looked at Pansy, "you just said it."
"What did I say?" Pansy asked with a curious _expression in her hazel eyes. She glanced at the Head Table and saw that the sorting was still going on before looking back at Draco.
"Think about it, Parkinson. If you were Dumbledore and you knew that Voldemort was planning on starting the training for his newest recruits, what would do you?" Draco asked, a smug smile crossing his face as he figured out the only logical explanation for what was happening. He knew why Lucius had been sent to Hogwarts: to spy on Potter and Dumbledore and to report to Voldemort. He hadn't been able to figure out why it had been his Father, though. Pansy had answered that question, even if she didn't realize it. Dumbledore was a crafty old bat, Draco had to admit.
"Is this a trick question?" Pansy whispered, hazel eyes looking around the room and seeing that no one else really seemed all that concerned about Lucius Malfoy being the new DADA professor. The Slytherins looked worried and a bit scared, but that was because they probably knew that Malfoy Senior was Voldemort's favorite Death Eater and they were aware that their presence at Hogwarts meant that they were not loyal to the Dark Lord. Pansy looked away from her fellow Slytherins, her eyes moving over the Gryffindor table where a discussion seemed to be taking place. No big surprise that it was Potter and his friends, no doubt discussing the same topic that she and Draco were whispering about. Lucius Malfoy and his new position as DADA professor. Neville looked up, an annoyed _expression on his face, his lips twisting into a somewhat friendly smile that she returned before he turned his attention back to his friends. She looked back at Draco, seeing that he was studying the Head Table again. She nudged him, "Malfoy, what's going on in that mind of yours?"
"Dumbledore weakened Voldemort," Draco said simply, gray eyes glancing at Pansy as he smirked, "he offered my Father the position of DADA professor, knowing that Voldemort wouldn't be able to resist having a spy at school, even if it meant sending his second-in-command. Parkinson, think about it. With my Father out of the way, stuck here teaching and spying, who is left to train the recruits?"
"Oh," Pansy nodded slowly, still not really understanding. She liked to think she was smart, being crafty and cunning two of the Slytherin characteristics, but this was just above her head. Draco was highly intelligent and extremely devious, sometimes too clever for his own good. He loved solving puzzles and analyzing situations, something that she rather believed he had inherited from his Father. There was a reason Lucius Malfoy was second-in-command to Voldemort, surpassing those that had fought in raids and killed many people while the elder Malfoy had never actually fought at all as far as she knew. No, Lucius Malfoy was Voldemort's favorite because he was a master at the dark arts, which might mean they'd learn something this term if he bothered to actually teach, and, just like his son, he was intelligent and shrewd and did most of the planning from what she had heard. Suddenly, she got it. A smile crossed her face as she looked at Draco who looked annoyed that it was taking her so long to figure out what he was saying. She said, "Oh!"
"I was beginning to wonder if you'd require me to write it out on parchment," Draco smirked, "Old Dumbledore isn't so stupid, I guess. He managed to get my Father here so he can keep a close eye on him at the same time leaving Voldemort with those imbeciles he calls Death Eaters, instead of my Father, to train the new recruits."
"I guess we Slytherins aren't the only crafty ones," Pansy said as she looked at the Headmaster with new respect. They didn't know that Draco's theory was correct, but it made perfect sense so it only seemed to be logical that it must have some truth to it.
"I guess not," Draco reluctantly agreed as he sat back in his chair, wondering if the Sorting Ceremony was ever going to end. He was relieved to have figured out a reasonable explanation for this surprising turn of events, but he was still suspicious of his Father. He wasn't at all pleased that Lucius was going to be teaching at Hogwarts and he was even less pleased that Willow, the redhead that he found himself wanting to know better, was working directly with the miserable bastard he called Father. Deciding that he had spent enough of the Welcoming Feast thinking about his Father, he concentrated his thoughts on something much more pleasant. He was still surprised by his reaction to Willow, having honestly given little thought to women in the past. When he was younger, he'd been pretty short and a bit insecure so he'd rarely listened to the remarks about how attractive he was. He'd assumed the majority came from people that wanted to use him for his family or his wealth or both. He still tended to think that way, actually, he realized with a slight frown. As he'd gotten older and started to grow up, he'd been caught up in his studies and Quidditch and trying to survive the visits home, giving little room for dating, not that anyone had struck his interest.
He was a Malfoy, after all, and not easily impressed. He'd met beautiful girls without the ability to form a complete thought on their own and he'd met somewhat intelligent girls that didn't arouse him in the slightest. Willow, though, she was not only beautiful but she was brilliant. They'd only spoken for a few minutes, true, but he'd not been able to get her out of his mind. She unlike any other girl he'd ever met, and he liked that. Really liked that, in fact. She hadn't been impressed with his name or his money, she'd resisted his blatant flirting but had done a little flirting of her own, and she'd seemed to have a similar attraction judging by the way she'd looked at him when they'd first met. He wanted to spend time with her, get to know her, touch her and kiss her. Gray eyes moved over her face, down her neck, lingering on the hints of creamy cleavage that the low neckline of the robe displayed. He was pulled from his musings about what was beneath Willow's robe and the exact manner in which he could find out when Pansy nudged his side.
"What?" he asked, deciding that it was probably better that his rather impure thoughts had been interrupted. Would not do at all to be caught ogling the new DADA assistant if he happened to be announced as Head Boy following the seemingly never ending Sorting Ceremony. Wait, Malfoys did not ogle. Coveting, perhaps?
"You were starting to drool," Pansy said innocently, hazel eyes flashing with amusement as he sneered at her.
"Bitch," Draco muttered, unable to think of an adequate defense for being caught lusting after Willow. It was obvious that Pansy knew who he had been looking at and, judging from the mischievous gleam in her eyes, she probably had a good idea what he had been thinking as he'd looked at her beautiful redheaded friend. He gave her a smirk as he said, "I was merely trying to figure out where your lovely new friend belongs in Dumbledore's scheme involving my bastard of a Father."
"Uh huh," Pansy nodded before she asked sweetly, "and was she wearing her robe in these significant thoughts? Because, judging from the look in your eyes and that naughty little smirk on your face, I'd wager that she was roaming around in your mind without that pretty green robe on."
"You must be mistaken," he said simply, though he frowned as he wondered if he did, indeed, have a naughty smirk that thinking about Willow was able to bring forth.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Pansy said, though she didn't believe a word of his defense. Instead, she changed the subject, asking, "Do you think she's part of Dumbledore's plan?"
"What?" Draco shrugged, having no idea what to say since he'd not honestly given the idea much thought, "I don't know. It's weird that he hired an American muggle-born to work as my Father's assistant, but it might have just been a subtle way to annoy Lucius. Maybe she's keeping an eye on him, maybe not. I definitely think we should keep an eye on her, just to make sure my Father doesn't try to harm her or anything."
"That's a good idea," Pansy agreed, unable to resist the small smile from crossing her face as Draco gave himself a justifiable reason to spend his time watching Willow. She hoped that her new friend wasn't in any danger from Lucius, deciding that she'd try to talk to the redhead when she had a chance.
"Dumbledore is off his rocker!" Ron hissed when he saw Lucius Malfoy sitting smugly at the head table. "Lucius Malfoy as the DADA professor? It's a nightmare. That's it. I fell asleep on the train and all this is just a terrible dream. OW!"
"It's not a dream," Ginny pointed out as her brother rubbed the spot on his arm that she had just pinched. She smiled sweetly when he glared at her, "You wanted to know if it was just a dream or not. I was merely helping you."
"I wish it was just a dream," Harry said softly, making a face, "I mean, Gods, Malfoy? What next? Voldemort as our Divination professor? 'Potter, you will die by my hand tonight.' I bet he'd get a real laugh out of that one."
"There has to be a reason," Hermione said confidently, though her voice was rather weak, "I can not imagine Dumbledore bringing Malfoy here unless there was a very valid reason. I haven't figured out what, yet, but there must be a reason."
"Hermione is right," Ginny agreed, "we trust Dumbledore so we have to believe that he knows what he's doing. He's not going to risk all of our lives unless he knows it's safe."
"I just can't believe he'd let Voldemort's favorite into the school as a teacher," Harry shook his head, "it doesn't make any sense. And who is that Willow girl? I don't recognize her at all."
"She's from California," Neville spoke up, looking away from the sorting to answer Harry's question, "I met her in Diagon Alley on Friday. I got a book for her and we spent a while talking. She's really nice and quite pretty. She's my friend. She's not one of the bad guys."
"How do you know that?" Ron asked harshly, "Just because she's pretty and nice doesn't mean she's not working with Malfoy on some evil plot to kill Harry and help Voldemort take over the world!"
"Ron, calm down," Hermione said sharply, "you're being a prat and disrupting the sorting!"
"My brother is usually a disruptive prat," Ginny pointed out, sticking her tongue out at Ron when he glared at her.
"Ron has a point, Hermione," Harry said softly, "okay, the entire taking over the world thing was a bit much, but the rest of it could be possible."
"No, Willow's not like that. I didn't talk to her for long, but I could tell she was a good guy," Neville protested. He shook his head, "She was friendly and funny and I had planned to introduce you to her when we got to school. She's not a bad guy. I know it!"
"No offense, Neville, but you spent the entire trip here with Slytherins and now you're defending some stranger that is working directly with Malfoy Senior," Ginny chose her words carefully, "so I'm not sure if you're the best judge of character right now."
"Pansy and Draco are on our side," Neville said softly, "and Willow is not working with Voldemort. Do you see the Slytherins? They're as surprised and angry about Lucius being here as we are. Draco hasn't stopped glaring since his Father came into the Hall and Pansy looks worried. How can you sit there and tell me I'm a poor judge of character when you're too blind to see that we're all on the same side regardless of what house we're in?"
"Stop it," Harry sighed, "this isn't doing anything except giving me a headache! Neville, you know we're friends, and I do trust you. I'm willing to give the Slytherins a chance, but I'm not going to trust any of them until I've seen for myself that they've really changed. I don't know why Lucius Malfoy has been hired at the school and I have no idea whether or not that Willow girl is friend or foe and I really need some time to figure all this out before I make any decisions on whether or not I trust them."
"I think Malfoy changed some last year," Hermione spoke up, "I don't know, he seemed a little less rude and obnoxious and he stopped calling me mudblood. He wasn't really nice, but he wasn't the same cold-hearted bastard that he had been. I'm not saying that I trust him, but I do believe that he's no longer the enemy."
"Trust has to be earned," Neville said, "I know that. Gods, I never expected to spend the train ride to school talking to two Slytherins I've spent the last six years disliking, and I definitely didn't plan on finding out that they weren't that bad underneath all the arrogant attitude. I'm just saying that we're all fighting on the same side now and we should give them a chance. It's the same thing with Willow. You can't just decide she's a bad guy because she's Malfoy's assistant. Dumbledore is the one that hired her, after all."
"I said I'd give them a chance," Harry pointed out, "It's the first day of school, and I've only just now found out that Voldemort has recruited an army and is probably planning on attacking me some time before the end of the school year. On top of that, Lucius Malfoy is our new DADA professor, which is like something out of a nightmare because he scares me as much as Voldemort and is just as dangerous. Deciding whether or not to trust the Slytherins is pretty low on my list of priorities on what to worry about right now."
"I don't think Malfoy is likely to try anything at school and certainly not this soon," Hermione said, "I assume he's here acting as a spy, I just can't figure out why Dumbledore would have offered him a position on faculty. It's quite annoying, I must admit, because there must be a reason and I just can't see it."
"You'll figure it out sooner or later, Mione," Ginny said confidently, noticing Neville look over at the Slytherin table and smile at Pansy Parkinson before the blonde continued a whispered conversation with Malfoy. It was strange to think that they might all be on the same side, she decided, looking back at Neville as she said softly, "I'd like to meet your friend Willow. She has a nice smile and I love her hair."
"Really?" Neville smiled, "I'd like that. Thanks, Ginny."
"I want to meet her, too, Neville," Hermione whispered across the table, smiling at her friend before she turned her attention back to the sorting ceremony as the table quieted down for a few minutes.
"Ha! Look," Ron pointed across the table, "Your friends look awfully smug about something! I bet they've been planning some evil trick to help You Know Who."
"Ron, drop it," Harry groaned, "we've been through this. We might not like or trust them, but they're here, which means they're on our side. Like Neville and I both said, you have to get past the house rivalries and accept that some of the Slytherins aren't completely evil bastards. You need to be more worried about the fact that Lucius Malfoy is going to be the new DADA professor instead of worrying about Malfoy and Parkinson and the other Slytherins."
"Grow up, Ron," Ginny said sweetly, though her voice was threatening, "I may not like them, either, but it's only fair we give them a chance."
"Would you be so suspicious of them if they were Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff?" Neville asked Ron, glad that most of his friends were willing to give his new friends a chance. Harry had surprised him, actually, because Neville knew his friend had good reason to be hesitant about giving them a chance to prove they were on the same side. He knew that it would take time for Harry to realize that they might be Slytherins but that didn't make them the enemy. And he had little doubt that Willow would win his friend over once Harry got to know her. Ron was so stubborn, though, and it was a known fact that he hated Slytherin House and couldn't stand Draco Malfoy in particular. He guessed he shouldn't be too shocked that the redhead was the one most insistent on believing that they were all evil.
"Why are you eager to defend them?" Ron asked, "Just because you spent a few hours on the train with them and they didn't happen to insult you or play a prank, you're all Slytherin are good guys, Slytherin are our friends. It's rubbish!"
"I'd like to think they're my friends," Neville said softly, "and they did insult me, just like they insult each other. They're not the bad guys and they're not working for Voldemort and I'm sick of hearing you doubt them."
"If you like them so much, why aren't you sitting with them?" Ron challenged, waiting for Neville to look away and back down. He knew he was overreacting, was fully aware that his other friends were glaring at him and that he'd be the recipient of a slug in the arm from both Ginny and Hermione for deliberately taunting Neville and he'd probably get a verbal lashing from Harry for being mean to the quiet boy they were all protective of, but he didn't care. Neville was his friend, but Ron was sick of hearing all the pro-Slytherin babble from him.
Neville was aware that the sorting ceremony was concluding, knew that the announcement of the new Head Boy and Girl would be next followed by the general warnings and then dinner. It would be very easy to look away and just ignore Ron. He knew that the redhead didn't mean anything personal by his arguing, was probably just trying to deal with the idea that things weren't as black and white as he'd always thought and had picked Neville as his target because of his new opinion of the Slytherins. Instead of looking away, though, Neville did something he had never expected to do. He gathered his courage and stood up, a smile crossing his face as he looked at his friends, seeing the flash of pride in Hermione's eyes at his actions as she seemed to figure out what he was going to do even before he realized it. Harry looked surprised but resigned and Ginny looked worried but somewhat pleased. Ron looked shocked and confused. Neville smiled as he said, "You know what? I think I will."
It was snowing in Hell.
Severus Snape had come to that decision following Dumbledore's announcement that Lucius Malfoy was going to be the new DADA professor. When the doors to the Great Hall had opened and Malfoy had confidently strolled in with his customary sneer, Severus' first reaction had been to reach for his wand. He had been pleased to see that Draco had done the same, pride flashing in his eyes at he looked his Godson before focusing his attention back to the danger that was Lucius Malfoy. Dark eyes had narrowed, thin lips twisting into a scowl, hand tightening around his wand, his body tense but ready to attack should the need arise. He had watched Lucius prance down the aisle between Slytherin and Ravenclaw with that annoying smirk as his cold blue eyes had wandered around the room. When Lucius had paused and turned towards someone walking behind him, Severus had seen the redhead that had caught Draco's interest.
Lucius had placed the girl's hand on his arm and led her to the Head Table, formal but polite. That act had caused Severus to relax his tight grip on his wand. He saw the calculating look in Malfoy's eyes after he looked at the redhead, Willow was the name he thought Draco had used. He knew Malfoy well enough to know that the blond wizard was up to something. They had been friends, of sorts, when they were younger. Severus had idolized the crafty Slytherin that was so handsome and charming, two years his senior. He had followed Lucius to Voldemort's side, overlooking any doubts he had initially had when his friend had asked him to join. Later, Severus could easily see how he had been manipulated by the wizard he had considered a friend.
Lucius had used his ambition, his insecurities, his adulation, and his intelligence to secure his skills with Potions for Voldemort's use. Severus couldn't really blame Malfoy, knowing that he had allowed himself to be influenced with little protest. He had been surprised when Lucius had asked him to be Draco's Godfather, having little doubt that the elder Malfoy was fully aware that he was spying for Dumbledore at that time. Lucius was not only smart, but he was also observant and intuitive and had an uncanny ability to see things in a way that no one else ever did. Draco had inherited those gifts, though he was nowhere near as cunning as his Father had been at the same age.
Of all the explanations that had entered Severus' mind to clarify why Lucius Malfoy was at the Welcoming Feast, never once had he considered that Dumbledore had hired the favorite of Voldemort to teach. The entire idea was preposterous. Dark eyes had glared at the Headmaster as he made the introductions, growing thoughtful as he began to wonder why Albus had made such a ridiculous decision and why Malfoy had accepted. He was not at all surprised that he had not heard this news from Voldemort. The Dark Lord did not have confidence in him, only agreeing to allow him to prove his loyalty after Malfoy had intervened.
Severus had not yet been able to determine *why* Lucius had spoken for him, again having no doubt that the blond wizard was aware of his spying. He had played the part of repentant follower, but he knew that he was not really trusted by any of them. He did, however, feel disappointed that Albus had not confided in him. He knew that there must be some reason Lucius Malfoy had been brought into Hogwarts and he intended to find out following the Welcoming Feast. He would have a word with Malfoy when the opportunity arose, express his displeasure at the arrogant bastard obtaining the position he had wanted for so very long as well as subtly let the blond know that he would be watching.
The scowl remained on Severus' face throughout much of the sorting ceremony. Dark eyes wandered the length of the Slytherin table, noticing the many empty seats. He was not astonished to see that so many of his House had parents on Voldemort's side or that wished to remain neutral. The majority of the empty seats did, in fact, belong to children whose parents' fit into the latter category. Many of the wealthiest families had taken long holidays, sending their children to various schools around the world so that they would not be in harm's way. They did not care who won the war, as long as their wealth, prestige, and family lines survived. He knew of twenty possibly thirty students that were actually recruited by Voldemort. Severus couldn't resist a small smirk as he realized that Voldemort's great new force contained pathetic wizards such as Crabbe and Goyle, who did not deserve to even hold a wand. It would take much training and pressuring to get those students to learn enough to possibly be a threat. Severus slowly straightened in his seat as his dark eyes became speculative. With Malfoy here, who was teaching the new recruits?
Albus, you sly bastard, Severus' scowl became a twisted smirk as he realized that Dumbledore had left Voldemort with a group of incompetent wizards to teach his newest bunch of Death Eaters. The remaining Death Eaters were dangerous, of course, having no guilt about torturing and killing muggles or obeying any instruction given by their Dark Lord, but they were not the most likely to be given the task of instruction. A few could possibly provide some training and, if they worked together, it wouldn't be a complete farce, but none of them possessed the same knowledge of the Dark Arts or the talent and skill, much as he loathed to admit it, as Lucius Malfoy. Severus had assumed Malfoy would be in charge of the training of the recruits, having amused himself with visions of the elder Malfoy cursing his own students because of their inability to form coherent thoughts much less perform the basic spells or charms. Now, though, Malfoy was here teaching DADA to the students that were loyal to Dumbledore. While that was not a reason to be cheerful, Lucius could do far less harm in his current situation than he would have training Voldemort's army. Here, he would be watched closely by Dumbledore and others, Severus fully intending to become a shadow to the blond wizard whenever possible. Any malicious plans for the students or professors would also be greatly hindered by his lovely assistant, a muggle-born whom Albus must believe capable of keeping a close eye on the threat that Malfoy posed by being in close contact with that Potter brat and the others.
This, of course, did not mean that Severus would not be cautious around Malfoy. The man was far too clever and sly to not pose a threat even under these circumstances. Besides, Severus really just didn't like Lucius. At one time, they had been friends. That had been before power and ambition had corrupted the blond Slytherin, becoming his only focus in life. Lucius had always been proud and arrogant, rarely showing his emotions at all, but Severus had been allowed to see beyond the image that was projected to the world for a brief time before Lucius had become captivated by Voldemort and the promises of a world where purebloods reigned supreme. Severus shook his head slightly, lips curving into a sneer as he took a moment to glare down the table, only able to see pale blond hair and a profile of the conceited bastard he'd once considered his only friend. He was not very shocked when Lucius seemed to feel his angry eyes, turning ever so slightly to meet his gaze. Blue eyes flashed with amusement, lips curving into an obnoxious smirk before Lucius merely nodded at him in a patronizing way before turning his attention back to the Sorting Ceremony.
They would have a nice chat following the Welcoming Feast, Severus decided with a glare. He'd enlighten Lucius to the fact that this was *his* school and that he was not overly pleased sharing it with another spy, what he assumed Lucius must be for Voldemort. He could not threaten Lucius regarding harming any of the students without risking his own cover as a loyal Death Eater, which was a bit annoying because he could think of many entertaining threats at the moment, but he would warn Lucius to play nice so he did not draw undue attention to himself. He had little doubt that Malfoy would understand his subtle threats perfectly, the annoying prat probably expecting them. Regardless, Severus had no intention of confirming his loyalty to Dumbledore. Luckily, he was clever enough to give Malfoy a warning without substantiating any of Lucius' suspicions. After his talk with Lucius, he would go have a chat with Albus and attempt to learn why he was not told of this plan in advance.
Severus turned his attention to Slytherin table, watching Draco do a suitable job of concealing his obvious fascination with Willow. The blond had mentioned the redhead several times throughout the weekend, just enough to cause Severus to find amusement in teasing the younger Malfoy about being smitten with the pretty American witch. Draco had denied anything other than a passing curiosity and concern for the girl being around his Father, but Severus had seen the look in the boy's eyes as he spoke about the girl he'd barely met and could recognize a besotted look when he saw it. He was proud of his Godson, often thought of the boy as his own after spending the last six school terms keeping an eye on him and successfully showing him that he did not need to walk in the footsteps of his Father. He found Draco's infatuation with the muggle-born redhead that he barely knew rather entertaining, not at all accustomed to seeing the boy display an affectionate emotion. He knew the boy could not be at all happy about learning the redhead was working directly with his Father, though that did at least explain their presence together in Diagon Alley. Of course, judging by the slight leer and foolish look that was presently in Draco's gray eyes as he looked at the redhead, it was obvious that Draco was delighted that she was here at Hogwarts.
After insuring that Draco was coping with his Father's surprise appearance, Severus turned his attention to the Gryffindors. Lips curved into an amused sneer as he saw the heated discussion occurring between Potter and his silly friends. They were ignoring the Sorting Ceremony, whispering across the table and sneaking looks at Lucius and the Slytherin table. Severus decided that it was *almost* worth Lucius becoming a fellow professor at Hogwarts to see Potter and his friends with such a horrified and fearful look on their faces. He amused himself by enjoying their discomfort at having Malfoy as their DADA professor, his smirk growing as he recalled that seventh year Gryffindors had double DADA with Slytherin this year as well as double Potions, also with Slytherin. He resisted the urge to rub his hands together and snicker at the reactions Potter and the others would have when they realized that a majority of their week would be spent with Slytherins *and* him and Lucius Malfoy.
He may be fighting on Dumbledore's side, may have a grudging respect for Potter and his silly friends, but that did not mean that he didn't enjoy their anxiety and worry over Lucius Malfoy being at Hogwarts. The Sorting Ceremony was finally completed, the announcement for Head Boy and Girl would be following. He was not certain who would be named, though he suspected it would be Granger for Head Girl and, he hoped, Draco for Head Boy. Slytherin had not had a Head Boy in some time, and Draco had most decidedly earned the respected position. His marks were high, the majority of his peers respected and listened to him, he had taken his duties as Prefect seriously and proven himself capable of the responsibility, and he was captain of the Slytherin quidditch team this year. Yes, Draco had earned the spot and he knew that his Godson desperately wanted the honor, even if the boy pretended that he didn't care at all.
Before the announcement could be made, there was a disturbance at the Gryffindor table. Severus' earlier amusement began to fade as dark eyes watched Longbottom stand. He could not properly enjoy the stunned look and speechlessness of Ron Weasley because his eyes, along with the rest of the Great Hall, were following Longbottom from the Gryffindor table across the hall towards, Severus' eyes widened with astonishment and dread, oh God, not this. Anything but this, he thought to himself. Of all people to make such a noble and honorable gesture, it had to be Longbottom, he of the melting cauldrons and shy stammer. He watched with resigned dismay as Longbottom reached his destination, receiving a startled by friendly smile from Parkinson and a smug smirk from Malfoy before moving a chair and taking a seat opposite them. Severus could only think of one reasonable explanation for Longbottom to be sitting at the Slytherin table.
There was a blizzard in Hell, and everyone there must be wearing ice skates and parkas.
Well, that was a surprising turn of events, Lucius mused silently when he watched Neville Longbottom leave the safety of the Gryffindor table to take a seat at Slytherin. It would appear that the boy had inherited his parents' strength and bravery, the Longbottoms being two of the best aurors during the first war. Their skill had not kept them from being captured or from suffering the effects of numerous curses, but Lucius had admired their loyalty to their cause even under the direst of circumstances. He respected devotion and strength, even in his enemies, though that respect did not alter his pursuit of victory. It was satisfying to see their son following in their footsteps, though he'd never admit that to anyone except Willow, and he was not at all unhappy that his son had apparently struck up a friendship of sorts with the boy.
He was actually having a rather enjoyable evening. His appearance had caused the appropriate amount of surprised and horror to those who knew of his reputation and a surprising amount of whispering from those who did not. He was pleased to see that the Slytherin table was far from empty, though it was noticeably missing a large amount of students. He knew of twenty-seven that would be training to become Death Eaters, the remainder obviously children of families who wished to remain neutral. In his opinion, they were all cowards. Not strong enough to even choose a side in a War that would affect the entire community, they were preoccupied with saving their wealth and bloodlines.
It was almost enough to bring shame to the purebloods, though not even their cowardice could lessen the status of the true wizarding families in comparison to those with weakened blood. He knew it was a bit hypocritical for him to still have a dislike of those of muggle origin considering that he had every intention of welcoming Willow into his family as his daughter-in-law, making her the first muggle-born witch to join the Malfoy family. He knew his ancestors would be moaning and whining for days about his decision to weaken their bloodline in such a way, but he liked to believe that Willow was an exception. She was special and it honestly no longer mattered to him that she was not a pureblood.
Besides, there were numerous families that had already weakened their blood with muggle-borns. A majority of those families that liked to claim the status were not true purebloods. Families such as his were rare these days, perhaps only two dozen that were truly pureblood. The remainder had cousins or children that had married muggle-borns at one point or another. The late eighties had proven a time of corruption to the bloodlines. There had been a lack of pure wizards and witches during that time, the generation that had been of age resorting to finding companionship with muggle-borns. The decline of real purebloods had begun with his generation, though, too many wizards and not enough witches. He had been lucky to have an arrangement with Narcissa's family, insuring him a pureblood bride in which to carry on the Malfoy name. The pureblood witches available for his son were not worthy of the Malfoy name. Willow, as a muggle-born, was more beautiful and intelligent and stronger than any of those worthless twits.
Lucius had not missed the heated and curious glances that his son had been sending Willow's way, once Draco had stopped glaring and scowling at him. The redhead had been watching the sorting ceremony and was completely enthralled by the talking hat, oblivious to his son's subtle looks of interest. He, however, was very pleased to see that his son found the beautiful redhead to be intriguing. He assumed that attraction was a logical first step on the path towards love, not entirely certain because he had grown to love Narcissa years after they were married and Draco was born. He had had a relationship prior to his marriage that had been entirely based on attraction and need, at least on his part.
Love was for the weak, and Lucius had not been weak, so he had never allowed himself to feel anything other than pleasure during that relationship. He had been possessive and controlling and had never returned the words of affection he would hear whispered in his ear, ignoring the part of him that craved the touch and words of love, believing himself weak for daring to care about another. Luckily, marriage had not frightened him at all. He and Narcissa had both been reserved and somewhat cold, their marriage a business arrangement in many ways, neither one speaking words of devotion or love. When Draco was born, Narcissa had softened a bit, spoiling the boy and doting on him, finally having someone to love.
She had not approved of Lucius' treatment of his son, believing that he was too strict and cold and pressured the boy without ever showing affection or pride. She was right, of course, but Lucius had not seen it at the time. Their marriage had continued and she had stopped arguing with him over time. She had been relieved when Draco went to school, glad to have him away from Lucius' influence and scolding. Narcissa had loved her son, and Lucius knew she would be very proud of the boy for being so brave and strong at a time when so many were not. Lucius hoped she might be proud of him, too, though he did not believe that he had earned forgiveness for his behavior towards her and Draco all those years.
Narcissa had wanted nothing more for her son than for him to meet someone and fall in love, marry and have children. A real relationship, not an arranged marriage like his parents had been forced into having. She had wanted him to make his own decisions regarding Voldemort and choose the side that he believed in, to accept the consequences of his actions and know that she believed in him completely. Yes, she would proud of her son. Lucius certainly was. He also believed that Willow and Draco made a perfect match and believed that, given time, both of them would realize that they were meant for each other. God, he was starting to sound like a hopeless romantic, he thought as he cringed. He stopped thinking about his son and Willow and turned his attention back to Dumbledore. He honestly didn't really care what the elderly wizard was rattling on about now, having already found himself extremely bored during the sorting ceremony. He had spent the majority of that time thinking about the plan and smirking at Severus, who alternated between glaring and sneering at him.
Lucius was pulled from his thoughts when he realized that Dumbledore was announcing the new Head Boy and Head Girl. He listened as much clapping followed the announcement of Head Girl. Hermione Granger, Potter's little friend. He knew the girl, had used her many times during his *talks* with Draco during the holidays, showing his displeasure that his son allowed a mudblood to best him in class. In all honesty, he was not very apologetic for those discussions, knowing that they had motivated Draco into studying hard and learning every aspect of his lessons so that he could top Granger in their shared classes so that he could please his father. The result was that Draco had actually learned a lot during his time at Hogwarts and was now often the top student in his classes, earning the reputation from even those who considered him an enemy as the smartest wizard in his year.
He watched as a rather pretty girl with brown hair stood up from the Gryffindor table. He noticed that her hair was still a bit unmanageable, though it was not nearly as awful as it had once been. She walked to the front of the Hall to join Dumbledore, carrying herself with confidence even as she was blushing from the clapping and whistling that accompanied the announcement of her receipt of the Head Girl position. He supposed she deserved the position, though a part of him still found it disgusting that a mudblood had received such an honor. She was the smartest witch in her year, though, and she was known for being opinionated, studious, thoughtful, and loyal. All of those were characteristics that he admired so he clapped politely.
When it was time for the announcement of Head Boy, he tensed without even realizing it. He desperately wanted Draco to win that position. Not only because it was an honor, but also because it would be a wonderful reward for all the hard work that his son had done during his time at Hogwarts. He felt a hand take his beneath the table, squeezing it as Dumbledore began the speech about the Head Boy position. He glanced at Willow and saw that she was listening intently, a smile on her lips as she enjoyed the entire Welcoming Feast experience. He squeezed her hand as he again looked at Dumbledore, his grip tightening as the Headmaster announced that Draco Malfoy from Slytherin House would be Head Boy this term.
Blue eyes looked towards his son, watching the boy's eyes change from surprised to happy as a smug smile crossed his handsome face. Draco stood and received claps and cheers as he made his way to the Head Table. For a moment, their eyes caught and Draco's smug smile faltered, his gray eyes flashing with several emotions that Lucius could not identify, and then his son was smirking, his eyes impersonal and aloof before he looked away. Lucius watched as Draco looked at Severus and shared a triumphant smile with the Potion Master, gray eyes flashing with pride and accomplishment, before he turned and took his place at Granger's side, the smirk back in place.
Willow had not missed the silent exchange between Lucius and Draco. She also hadn't missed the wink that Draco sent her way after looking away from his Father or the way his full lips curved into a smile that made her breath catch and butterflies fly around in her tummy. She sighed softly, knowing that Lucius must be proud of his son even as he had to be hurting from Draco's dismissal, if you will. She understood where Draco was coming from, having grown up with parents that were rarely around and, when they were, all they could do is tell her how she wasn't good enough and how they expected better and what a disappointment she was as a daughter. Thankfully, she had Xander and Jesse and then Buffy and Giles to give her support and encouragement and love. She did love her parents, in a way, but she had stopped caring about their opinions and needing their approval after her mother tried to burn her at the stake. That was a rather obvious sign that they would never approve of her life and never understand her, even if they had been acting under the influence of a spell of sorts. It didn't really matter because she had friends that were like her family and they loved her unconditionally and they believed in her and supported her. Sheila and Ira had been pretty awful parents. But she had a feeling that Lucius had probably been worse than her parents had ever been.
His sarcastic wit, the Malfoy arrogance, and the entire bad guy thing had to have helped make him a total terror as a father. He'd admitted as much during one of their many long talks. He had constantly berated Draco, not finding anything his son did good enough, criticizing every action, never giving the approval or affection Draco had to have wanted. She knew that he had acted that way because it was how he had been raised, because he believed it would toughen his son and would be good for him, but he had never realized just how far he was away he kept pushing Draco. Once he had realized it, it was too late. He'd lost Draco and now didn't think he had any chance whatsoever of earning his son's love and respect. She had seen the look in Draco's eyes when he'd first looked at Lucius, had recognized the hunger for approval, had watched as Draco closed his emotions off, just like his Father. She felt like smacking them both upside the head. Stupid stubborn reserved purebloods!
She knew there were more important things to be concerned with at the moment than fixing the fucked up relationship between Lucius and Draco, but she planned to do her best to help that horrible relationship as much as possible. She could admit that she was pretty darn attracted to Draco. She'd caught him staring at her earlier, during the sorting ceremony, the look in his gray eyes curious and rather lusty. She'd never been looked at like Draco looked at her, as if she were the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen and he wanted to know everything about her in between lots of smoochies. She had vowed to ignore her attraction and focus on the plan, possibly become friends with the blond wizard that had taken over her dreams since their brief meeting in Diagon Alley, but not let things go beyond friendship.
She had too much on her mind to even think about a relationship, and she'd convinced herself that the attraction she'd felt was one-sided. Now, though, it appeared she was wrong. Of course, just because he was looking at her with lusty looks didn't mean that he was dreaming about her or wanting anything other than some smoochies. She had to play the part of gullible American assistant for Lucius' plan to work and, while he had encouraged her to befriend Potter and his friends and didn't seem to mind her friendship with Neville or Pansy, she just didn't think it was the right time to even be considering getting to know Draco in a more than friendly way.
She had been enjoying the Welcoming Feast. It was fantastic, really, like something out of a book. She was getting a bit hungry, though, and hoped it was nearly time for dinner. The sorting ceremony had been neat, the redhead still finding it hard to believe that the hat had actually talked. She was glad that people were too busy paying attention to the ceremony or talking about Lucius to notice her wide eyes and goofy smile that she knew had to have been on her face since taking her seat. She had been happy to see Pansy and Draco and Neville, thrilled to recognize at least a few faces. There were a lot of students, more than she'd expected, though she could see that the table where Pansy was sitting was less full than the others. She was glad that it appeared Neville was friendly with Pansy and Draco.
She'd nearly bounced in her seat when Neville had joined her friends at their table, not exactly sure why it had caused such a shocked response from others but assuming it was something about the four houses. She knew about the rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor, rather proud that Neville had ignored expectation to sit with his friends at their table. Willow had gotten the impression from Pansy that the blonde didn't really have any friends and only interacted with members of her own house in the past so she was curious how she had become friends with Neville. She assumed it must be relatively new because Draco and Pansy had both seemed a bit surprised by Neville joining them. Regardless of when it happened, she was pleased to see that her friends got along well. She had been very glad to see Draco sitting with Pansy, having worried a bit that her new friend would be eating alone.
She had assumed she would eat with Pansy this year, but Lucius had dismissed that idea as ridiculous. He had agreed that she could sit where she pleased for breakfast and occasionally for lunch, but that she was sitting beside him for dinner. She enjoyed spending time with Lucius, even when he was playing the part of Bad Lucius, so she didn't mind. Besides, he'd get pretty lonely if she never sat with him. She decided that she'd try to talk to Pansy and the others after dinner, if she had an opportunity. She wanted to see if they still wanted to be her friend since she was working with Lucius, though she didn't think she needed to worry because the three of them had smiled at her since learning about her position as Lucius' assistant. She watched as Dumbledore congratulated Draco and the brunette girl, Hermione. Then, the two students returned to their seats amongst more cheering from their fellow classmates. The Headmaster gave another brief speech, something about the Forbidden Forest being forbidden and then he said some nonsensical thing to which the students responded. Before Willow even realized it, there was a plate with food on the table in front of her. It was time to eat.
"When the meal is finished, I will return to our rooms. You have sixty minutes to chat with your new friends before I expect you to join me," Lucius informed Willow quietly, turning his head so that no one could see him speaking to the redhead beside him.
"You're not planning to socialize with your fellow professors?" Willow asked just as quietly, arching a brow as she looked at him before focusing back on her meal. Had anyone glanced in their direction, she knew it would seem as if they were strangers barely tolerating each other.
"I'm no longer in the mood," Lucius said simply, the words sincere. He had planned to continue the act following the meal, perhaps exchange pleasantries mixed with the proper amount of sneering and amused smirks that would be expected. As it was, he now found himself ready to retire to his room and relax without worrying about his image. The brief exchange with Draco had affected him, he had to admit, reminding him how dreadful he had been to the boy. His heart had broken just a bit when his son had ignored him yet shared a proud smile with Severus. He had to wonder if his son would ever forgive him, not at all sure he even deserved a second chance to be a father. Great, only a few hours in Severus' general vicinity and he already found himself brooding like his old friend.
"I can go back with you," Willow offered softly, "I can always talk to Pansy and Neville tomorrow."
"That isn't necessary," Lucius protested, giving her a smirk as he said, "I was unaware that Longbottom associated with my son. I expect a full report upon your return explaining how that unlikely friendship occurred."
"You're such a gossip," Willow muttered, her eyes shining with amusement before she looked at her plate. She was glad that he was at least smirking again. She had been a bit worried about him. He'd been silent during the majority of the meal, his blue eyes contemplative and his lips curved into a slight scowl. Now, though, he was smirking and seemed to have moved past the bit of brooding he'd been doing.
"I prefer to think of it as keeping myself informed," Lucius said dryly as he finished his meal.
"Thanks for letting me have some time to talk to Pansy and Neville, Lu. I wanted to see their reactions to the news that I'm you're assistant," Willow admitted, "oh, and Draco, too, of course."
"You had better not forget my son," Lucius teased. He felt much more cheerful, the brief conversation with Willow amusing him, even if it did require whispers and looking down at the table to be able to hold it.
"As if you'd let me," Willow snickered, covering the sound with a cough when she realized that there was someone sitting next to her. She glanced to her left, relieved to see that the woman sitting there was busy talking to the person next to her.
"I'm going to make my escape while I can," Lucius said as he leaned over and pushed his plate away. His voice was a normal level as he said, "Miss. Rosenberg, we have lesson plans to arrange. Do try to finish your meal some time this evening. You have sixty minutes."
"Of course, Professor Malfoy," she replied politely, amazed again by how easily he could switch from Lu to rude bastard.
"Please surprise me by arriving promptly, child," Lucius sneered for good measure as he stood and smoothed out his robe. With a nod in her general direction, he made his way to the door behind the front table. He took a moment to look back when he felt eyes watching him, blue eyes flashing with amusement when he found Severus glaring after him. With an arrogant smirk, he bowed mockingly before disappearing through the door. Once in the silent passage, he closed his eyes and sighed, leaning against the wall as he took a moment to think about the events that had just transpired.
He had to admit that it had gone surprisingly well. He had enjoyed the mixed reactions that had greeted his appearance. Willow had been brilliant, though he had expected no less. Her sincere enthusiasm and amazement at everything she had witnessed made her seem so young and innocent, perfect for the evil Death Eater, the role in which he was most likely cast by those that mattered, to corrupt and tarnish. It was rather amusing if you considered that she had grown up on a Hellmouth and had seen and fought true evil, her eyes displaying strength and maturity that belied the youthful image she tended to project. To anyone observing closely, they had been virtual strangers forced into working together. She had been respectful and shown just the proper amount of eagerness to please him for their act. He was glad that she was there with him, knowing that the entire experience was much more enjoyable sharing it with his dear friend. He could already imagine her animated commentary that evening, when they were in their room and able to just be themselves.
The Welcoming Feast, itself, had been just as dry and dull as he remembered from his years at Hogwarts. During his first year, he had been concentrating on his desire to be in Slytherin, as his family expected, and had paid little attention to the silly parlor tricks that had so easily impressed his classmates. During his seven years at school, he had only witnessed one other student that had viewed the ceremony in a similar way. In fact, it had been the sneer on the first year's lips during the entire sorting ceremony that had first caught his attention during his third year. He had been pleased when the boy had been sorted into Slytherin, Lucius recalled as he thought about his first and only real friend until he had met Willow. It was a bit pathetic, in a way. Nearly forty and he could count his friends on one hand with a few fingers left over. No matter what had happened between them throughout the years, he did still consider Severus a friend, even if the dark-haired Slytherin hated him. He did have reason to hate him, after all, Lucius sighed, shaking his head slightly as he moved away from the wall.
Lucius walked down the hall, his blue eyes cold and the smirk on his lips, his head held high and his robes falling perfectly. He could hear the portraits whispering about him as he lazily made his way through the school. There were eyes everywhere in this blasted castle, a fact that he would do well not to forget. When he was in the privacy of their rooms or, perhaps on occasion, in the classroom, he had the freedom to forget about the act without worrying about being observed or overheard. Otherwise, he would constantly be playing his part. While he didn't mind being the Lucius Malfoy that he had been nearly four decades, he had to admit that it was far more taxing than he'd imagined. With every insult and smirk, he was clearly reminded of what a horrible bastard he was. True, he had changed since Narcissa's death, but he was still the same Lucius Malfoy that he had always been in many ways.
Turning against Voldemort and loving a muggle-born had opened his eyes, in a way, and he was proud of the changes he had made, but it didn't mean that he was a different person. He didn't want to be a different person, if he were completely honest. There were aspects of his life that he hated, that caused shame, but those were the areas where he was changing or trying to change. The rest of it, the arrogance, sarcasm, uppity pureblood haughtiness, as Willow called it, and other aspects of his personality, that was who he was. Willow understood that he would never be anything resembling a saint, loving him unconditionally, and he loved her for it. She was the only person who knew the real Lucius Malfoy, good and bad, had actually been there as he was changing and learning who he was, and she accepted him. He honestly didn't believe that others would be quite so accepting, but he intended to stop acting once the battle with Voldemort was over. He would finally be able to be himself, somewhat new and slightly improved.
The blond wizard reached the front hall, pulling himself from his thoughts as he saw the staircase that would lead him upstairs. His lips curved into a small smile as he turned, his robes billowing around him as he walked away from the stairs. He had something to do before he retired to his room for the evening, his eyes flashing with amusement. Willow would most likely get caught up chatting with her new friends while doing her best to convince herself that she wasn't attracted to his son so he doubted she'd be upstairs in an hour so it didn't matter if his impulsive decision detained him. All right, impulsive wasn't exactly the correct word since he had been anticipating this event since he had first concocted his plan and received Dumbledore's approval. He had to admit that a part of him, the good part that liked to scold him for his mischievous schemes, had tried to dissuade him from his choice of action. Luckily, the wickedness far outweighed the goodness so he had decided to fully enjoy the experience. He had deliberately left the Welcoming Feast early, but he had not been completely honest with Willow as to his reasons. It was true that he didn't wish to speak anyone and that he was ready to relax for the evening before classes began, so he had not lied to his friend.
But he had failed to tell her that he knew Severus would be greatly annoyed by his leaving before the Potions Master could confront him. He had received the expected glare from the dark-haired wizard when he had left, his mocking of the younger man just fueling the anger and irritation already blazing in his normally cold dark eyes. Lucius reached the staircase he had been seeking, walking down the stairs with a smug smile on his handsome face. Knowing Severus, he would be working himself into a right nice fit of anger by now, having his plans of threatening and questioning thwarted by Lucius' leaving early. He'd be sulking and glaring, not at all in a proper mood to have a chat with Dumbledore regarding Lucius' employment. So he would likely storm out of the Welcoming Feast as he soon as he had permission, because the dear boy did respect the Headmaster and would never think of leaving early like a certain evil bastard that he hated, and retire to his room for more brooding, possibly some cursing of Lucius, and maybe more thinking.
There was always a slight chance that he was wrong about what to expect from Severus, but the blond wizard doubted it. It wasn't that Severus was predictable, far from it actually. Lucius just had an insight into the younger wizard that few others, if any, did. They had been very close at one time, after all, and Lucius had developed the habit early on of studying Severus because he did not understand him. In a way, he still did not completely understand Severus, but he knew enough to generally be able to predict his behavior and reaction to various situations. Lucius reached the Potions classroom, using his wand to cast the room into a soft glow of light. He knew that Severus had to pass the room to get to his personal quarters and would definitely notice the light in what should have been a dark and empty classroom. The room was organized and somewhat tidy, but it smelled of the various ingredients needed for potions and it looked like the room hadn't received a good cleaning in years. He arched a brow as he looked around, careful not to let his robes brush against one of the tables for fear it would get dirty.
The DADA classroom had had a similar uncleanliness to it, possibly the dungeon location gathering more dust, but he and Willow had cleaned the room for hours because neither wanted to spend hours a day surrounded by filth. He had first suggested allowing the house elves to clean, since that was their responsibility and because Malfoys did not clean, but Willow had thought it would be fun if they did it themselves. He'd not been able to resist her, finding himself cleaning for the first time in, well, so far back he couldn't even remember. It had been fun, the two of them laughing and talking, and he liked the result, knowing that they had cleaned places that the house elves usually ignored. Their classroom looked brilliant, even with those silly flowers she insisted on putting out, clean and organized and ready for students. The tables in this room appeared to be clean enough, courtesy of the house elves, and the floor and such appeared to be adequately free of dirt and dust. Lucius moved to Severus' desk, conjuring a handkerchief that he used to quickly dust the seat before he sat down. He sat back in the chair, placing his feet on the desk, his eyes flashing with anticipation and amusement, a smug smile crossing his handsome face as he made himself comfortable to await Severus' arrival.
Willow waited until Lucius was gone before she stood up and made her way to her friends' table. Most the students were chatting as they ate so she didn't think she would disturb anyone by taking the time to greet her new friends. She turned her head slightly when she felt someone watching her, not very surprised to see that it was the four students with whom Neville had been sitting before joining Pansy and Draco. She assumed this lot was Potter and his friends, placing names to faces from Lucius' description. She knew Hermione Granger was the brunette witch, having learned her name during the Head Girl announcement. She looked friendly, Willow decided, though she also looked as if she were trying to solve a puzzle. The redhead had little doubt that the puzzle in question was most likely centered around Lucius and her. She had heard that this witch was one of the brightest in Hogwarts recent history, even Lucius had reluctantly admitted that fact.
Willow's attention turned to the boy beside Hermione, seeing the messy black hair and glasses that fit the description of 'that Potter brat', as Lucius fondly referred to him. So this was Harry Potter, the hope of the wizarding world. He looked tired, she decided, which was understandable considering the weight that had been placed on his shoulders from the time he was an infant. She caught his eyes, green looking into green, and she saw something she often saw in Buffy and even Faith's eyes: strength, determination, courage. Unlike the slayers, however, she didn't think he had learned to balance his destiny with enjoying life. She got the impression that he smiled a lot, perhaps even had a good laugh often, but she honestly wondered how many times the smile actually reached his eyes. She couldn't explain it, really, only catching his eyes for a brief moment during her walk to her friends. He just didn't seem to have the same acceptance of his responsibility that her best friends had. She was looking forward to meeting him, she decided before turning her attention to the two redheads.
The boy, Ron Weasley of that 'wretched Weasley clan', was glaring at her, his eyes suspicious as he looked from her to the table where she was heading. She could understand suspicion completely and didn't mind the glare at all. From what she had heard, Ron was the hothead, the one most likely to rush off into a situation without thinking first, letting his emotions and stubbornness rule his actions. That wasn't a good attitude to have when facing something like Voldemort, but it rather reminded her of Xander, in a way. Her best friend was a bit rash and tended to act from his heart without giving proper thought to his actions. He was also stubborn as Hades when he wanted to be, luckily those times were few and far between and usually involved him protecting those he loved.
Perhaps Ron was similar, only he rushed in and started fights if he thought someone he cared about was being threatened while Xander tended to fight with his words instead of his fists. It would take this guy time to realize that she wasn't a danger to his friends, but Willow didn't mind. She had a feeling that there wouldn't be a more loyal guy on your side if you proved your worth to the hotheaded Weasley. Her eyes then moved to the girl beside him, recognizing this as the Weasley sister, Ginny. She was surprised when this girl openly smiled at her, her eyes friendly with just a hint of curiosity. Willow felt herself smiling back, having a good idea that she was going to like Ginny Weasley. She turned her attention away from those four as she neared the table where her friends were sitting.
The statements were said at the same time causing Pansy and Neville to look at each other in surprise. Pansy had no idea that Neville knew Willow, looking at the redhead and asking, "You two know each other?"
"We met at Flourish and Botts on Friday," Neville said, "you know her?"
"We met at Madame Mankins on Friday," Pansy nodded, "I had no idea you knew Willow! That's just neat."
"A nice coincidence," Neville declared, liking the idea that his new friend was already friendly with the two Slytherins that he had begun to consider friends over the course of the day.
"Please sit down, Willow," Draco drawled, indicating the space opposite him. He smirked, "You'll have to forgive Parkinson and Longbottom. I would suggest that they had forgotten their manners, but that would indicated that they had them in the first place."
"Bugger off, Malfoy," Pansy said sweetly before she turned towards Willow, who was doing her best not to laugh, "Willow, you look beautiful. I honestly thought there was a chance for a flood from the drooling that Malfwh whuos dhrng."
Draco's hand closed over Pansy's mouth before she could finish embarrassing him. He glared at her before looking back at Willow, noticing the pale pink that was flooding her cheeks as she smiled softly. Bloody beautiful, he decided, wondering for a moment if the blush covered her entire body, easily imagining the pale flesh of her nude body tinged with pink as he worshiped her. He pushed those thoughts away for the time being and said, "For once Parkinson is actually right about something. You do look very beautiful this evening, Willow."
"Thank you, Draco. Congratulations on receiving the position of Head Boy," Willow said, doing her best to pretend that she wasn't flushing from the way Draco's eyes had moved over her. She wasn't accustomed to such blatant stares of admiration, and especially not from gorgeous, wealthy, popular, sexy guys like Draco Malfoy.
Any attempt at convincing herself she'd imagined it had faded upon hearing Pansy's teasing remarks, the fact that Draco had quickly covered the blonde's mouth before she could say anything further confirmed the truth of the words. Which made Willow tingle in a way she certainly shouldn't be, considering her decision to ignore the unexpected attraction she felt for Draco and her resolution that their relationship would be platonic since she hadn't believed he'd be interested in more. Lusting after Draco was not part of the plan, though Lucius would probably disagree before smirking and reminding her that he'd always said she'd be perfect for his son in that know-it-all tone he used to annoy her.
"Thank you," Draco smiled slightly, rather proud of his accomplishment and pleased that she was offering sincere congratulations.
"The prat will be even more conceited now that he's Head Boy," Neville grumbled beside Willow, his eyes flashing with amusement. He confided, "He's always been an arrogant arse, you know? Right smug bastard, this one."
"It's not my fault that I'm practically perfect in every way," Draco smiled smugly, finally releasing Pansy's mouth when she tried to bite his hand.
"I think I may lose my dinner," Pansy said dryly before looking at Willow. She wasn't sure how to approach what she wanted to talk about, but she knew that dinner was going to be over soon and, as a Prefect, she would be expected to assist the students with settling in for the evening. She finally said, "I expect DADA class this year should be interesting."
"I'm really excited," Willow smiled, her words sincere. She had been wondering if they would mention Lucius, having thought they might refuse to talk to her at all since she'd be working with him. She'd been relieved when they had made her feel welcome, enjoying their teasing and their company.
"Did you know your Father was teaching this year, Malfoy?" Neville had to ask, though he suspected he already knew the answer to that question. He didn't care what Ron said, he believed that Draco was on their side and that he had no idea what his Father was up to.
"No," Draco shook his head, "but Friday is the first time I had seen him since my Mother's funeral so it isn't as if he would keep me informed of his activities."
"I didn't think you knew," Neville nodded, turning his attention to Willow as he said, "Do you remember what I told you about the past DADA professors?"
"The curse, right?" Willow remembered as she looked at Neville.
"Lucius Malfoy, well, he fits with your theory," Neville said slowly, not wanting to outright insult Draco's Father but wanting Willow to be aware of whom she was working for.
"Really?" Willow asked innocently, feeling guilty for having to slide into the act around her new friends. She knew it was necessary, but she still hated the fact that she was pretty much lying to them. Her theory had been that the people that took the position were already bad and that there was no curse, which meant Neville believed Lucius was one of the bad guys. Lu would be pleased when she told him, rather proud of his reputation.
"He's not to be trusted," Draco said simply, not having any idea what Neville was trying to tell the redhead but deciding that there was no point in being vague. Gray eyes caught green as he said, "He's uncaring, manipulative, dangerous, and I don't like that you're working so closely with him."
"He is a bit abrasive, true, and he was rather rude when we first met, but today he has been absolutely charming," Willow smiled, deciding that wasn't a lie.
"Willow, I know you're from America and probably don't know a lot about what is happening in our world over here," Pansy said softly, "but Lucius Malfoy is suspected of being a follower of You Know Who and that means he's dangerous, especially to a muggle-born witch like yourself."
"Just, be careful," Draco said quietly, doubting it would take long for Willow to see the truth and realize that his Father was an evil bastard underneath the charming image he was apparently trying to project at the moment. Until then, he'd keep an eye on her and make sure she didn't get hurt.
"Of course," Willow agreed. Before she could try to change the subject, she felt someone approach them. Looking over, she saw Ginny Weasley and Hermione Granger.
"Congratulations, Malfoy," Hermione said as she and Ginny reached the Slytherin table. Ginny had wanted to come over and meet that Willow woman since the American had left the Head Table, but Hermione had been finishing her dinner and wanted a chance to observe the redhead around Neville. She'd been very surprised when she'd seen the girl talking to Parkinson and Malfoy as if they were friends, her curiosity getting the best of her as she had agreed to accompany Ginny across the Great Hall to welcome the new DADA assistant.
"You too, Granger," Draco drawled as he nodded at the brunette witch.
"Hi, I'm Ginny Weasley," Ginny introduced herself to Willow. She trusted Neville but she had wanted to meet the girl for herself so she'd know if she got any kind of negative vibe from the American. As it was, she found herself smiling at the girl's friendly _expression. She got the idea that there was more to the redhead than there seemed, recognizing a strength and knowledge in the girl's green eyes that was quickly covered by a welcoming sparkle. She may be hiding something, but Ginny did not believe she was dangerous. On the contrary, she got the feeling that they were both on the same side, which was something she decided she would keep to her self for now. She'd sit back and watch what happened, try to figure out what was going on and maybe make a new friend along the way.
"Willow Rosenberg," Willow grinned at the redheaded witch, not missing the flash of recognition in the girl's eyes or the slow smile that followed.
"I love your hair," Ginny smiled, "that shade of red is brill! Is it real?"
"Yes," Willow laughed, admiring the girl's bluntness, "it's pretty dark, but I'm happy with it. I actually like your shade, too."
"I sometimes think it's a bit too orange," Ginny confided, "My Dad said it looks like a shiny copper penny, which is a kind of muggle coin. I have yet to decide if that is a compliment or not."
"You know it looks smashing with your coloring," Hermione rolled her eyes before smiling at Willow, "I'm Hermione Granger. It's nice to meet you, Willow."
"Congratulations on the Head Girl position," Willow smiled, noticing the speculative look that was in Hermione's eyes, finding it all too familiar. It was the same look she tended to get when there was research to be done or a puzzle to solve. She'd have to tell Lucius to be careful around this girl, having an idea that she was just as stubborn as Willow was when trying to find answers to her questions. Not that she thought Lucius needed to worry too much. He was good at deception, which she wasn't sure yet was a good thing, and she knew he was looking forward to having the opportunity to become Professor Malfoy, charming and instructive but somewhat dangerous. She had a feeling that Professor Malfoy would probably be close to the real Lucius, so that he didn't take any unnecessary risks by acting too extreme one way or the other.
"Thank you," Hermione smiled pleasantly.
"Well, Granger, it looks like we get to begin the new job," Draco said as he stood up, smoothing out the lines of his robe, "dinner seems to be over. Would you like to alert the prefects to begin taking the students to the dorm or would you like me to?"
"I guess you can," Hermione said, studying Draco for a moment. Neville was right, she realized. Draco was on their side, even if he was still a bit of an arrogant prat. Content with her realization she turned towards Willow, "I look forward to speaking with you later, Willow. I hope you have a successful first day of class."
"Same to you, Hermione," Willow smiled at the Head Girl.
"We'll definitely get together soon," Ginny told Willow, her eyes moving to look at Pansy as she added, "Pansy can visit with us, too."
"Me?" Pansy looked at the redhead Gryffindor and slowly smiled, "I'd like that."
"Great," Ginny said, fully aware that Ron was going to kill her for making tentative plans with Parkinson. She didn't really care, though, knowing that her brother never saw beyond the name Slytherin to get to know any of them. She didn't know if she'd like Pansy, but she was willing to give the blonde witch a chance. She followed Hermione back to their table as the Prefects began to gather the students to head to the rooms. She could say this at least for the first day back at school, it was full of surprises. Some good, like Neville standing up to her brother and the possibility of making new friends and seeing some of the students show more courage than she had ever imagined by attending this term, and some worrisome, like Lucius Malfoy being the new DADA professor and the fact that they were missing so many students because of who knew what evil scheme Voldemort was planning. She had a feeling that this was definitely going to be an interesting year.
Willow stayed seated at the Slytherin table until the students had left the Great Hall, not wanting to get mixed up in the crowd and lose her bearings. She had only been at Hogwarts for a few days and had explored a majority of the castle, but she knew how easy it would be to get lost if she got turned around. Her room was up several flights of stairs, which normally wouldn't be a problem except here, at this school, the stairs loved to change and move. She found her thoughts drifting to Lucius, her green eyes narrowing as she wondered what the sneaky wizard had been planning when he left.
He hadn't said anything, but she knew him well enough to know that something was going on in that devious mind of his when he'd made such a vague excuse for leaving early. While she appreciated the chance to talk to her new friends and do some covert Draco ogling close enough to smell vanilla and spice which were two scents she was beginning to associate with the handsome blond wizard, she wasn't stupid enough to believe that Lu simply planned to go to the room to wait for her.
He had been looking forward to this evening for weeks, ever since he'd managed to get Voldemort to agree to his plan and he realized that he'd get to make a big entrance as the new DADA professor. The silly man had taken great lengths to insure that not a single white-blond hair was out of place and that his robes were expensive and complimentary to his image because he'd wanted to make the perfect first impression. She had assumed he'd have gleefully embraced the opportunity to mingle with his fellow professors following the meal, knowing he enjoyed playing his part and getting a reaction of surprise and suspicion from those around him, as well as the glances of admiration and respect. Yet, he'd left before speaking to a single colleague, Willow thought, wondering what he was up to. She knew it had to involve Severus Snape somehow, fully aware of the complicated history between Lu and the dark-haired professor. Though, she had to admit that she was beginning to wonder if there was even more to that complex relationship than she'd ever guessed, having noticed the smirks and glares the two exchanged during dinner.
She was pulled from her thoughts by the sudden silence in the room as the doors closed after the last student. Remembering the mischievous gleam in Lucius' eyes before he'd left, she had to smile. She could already tell that their employment at Hogwarts was good for her friend. He was much more relaxed and seemed to be enjoying himself, and classes hadn't even begun yet. True, he still wasn't in a position where he could just be himself, but she thought that this was probably the closest he'd be able to get until Voldemort was finally defeated.
He was a natural teacher, having taught her so much during their year of friendship, and he was surprisingly patient if he knew you were trying. If you weren't trying, well, he was the rudest bastard in the world and could make you feel like the most incompetent twit with just an arched brow and a few well-chosen words. He'd definitely be in his element working as a professor, especially in a subject such as Dark Arts, of which he was very knowledgeable. She knew that he planned to use the position to do his best to get the students prepared to face Voldemort, having no intention of wasting his opportunity to help get them ready for the fight. Luckily, Voldemort would have no way of knowing that Lucius was actually teaching and not just wasting time.
Willow stood up, pushing her chair under the table and turning, green eyes widening with surprise as she nearly bumped into a vaguely familiar face. She scooted back, apologizing, "Sorry, I didn't know anyone was here."
"You should always be aware of your surroundings, Miss. Rosenberg," Severus drawled lazily, watching a flash of anger enter her eyes at his patronizing tone. He had remained in the Great Hall following the end of the meal, having every intention of speaking to the redheaded American who had so captivated his godson and others. When Lucius had left before they could speak, he'd been angry and annoyed, wanting nothing more than to seek out the arrogant bastard and demand an explanation to why he was teaching at Hogwarts and intruding on Severus' territory.
He knew Lucius well, though, and had little doubt that his old friend probably anticipated such a reaction from him. Had he not been forced to endure the remainder of the meal, there would have been no hesitation in him searching the castle for Lucius and seeking answers that he doubted the handsome blond would have provided. As it was, he'd been given a chance to calm down and revise his plans following the meal. He had decided to speak to Willow, the pretty witch that was working directly with Lucius and possibly assisting Dumbledore in keeping an eye on the blond wizard.
He would rather wait to confront Lucius until he had some understanding of what was happening, not wanting to jeopardize his tentative position with Voldemort by behaving in a way not proper to a loyal Death Eater and not wanting to risk whatever Dumbledore had planned by possibly saying the wrong thing. Lucius was possibly the one person that could read him, that could predict his behavior and seem to know what he was thinking or feeling even as he kept his eyes cold and his mouth shut, and he did not wish to confirm any suspicions the blond wizard may have regarding his support of Voldemort.
He sometimes hated Lucius for knowing him so well, considering it a weakness that someone knew so much about him. At one time, he had known Lucius the same way, better than any other in the wizard's life, though the blond had never been predictable, even to him. Lucius Malfoy had always been an enigma, intelligent and powerful and handsome, charming and wealthy, arrogant and private. Severus had been allowed inside the barriers he kept around himself at one time, getting to know a side of Lucius that others never saw. That had changed following his betrayal of Voldemort, neither one in a position where their friendship, if you will, could easily exist, and now he rarely saw glimpses of the man he had once known so well. He cursed as he shook his head. Lucius had only been at Hogwarts for a few hours and Severus had thought of little else. Suspicions regarding Lucius' position at the school, curiosity as to why Lucius had agreed to such an assignment when his skills would be better used as a trainer for the new death eaters, concern for the students that were under his care, and several other emotions that Severus rarely allowed himself to experience.
"You're right," Willow reluctantly agreed, thankful that Lucius didn't know she'd allowed herself to get so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't realize someone was behind her. She had spent years helping Buffy and always prided herself on knowing what was happening around her. She smiled slightly as she said, "Please, call me Willow. You are?"
"Severus Snape, Potions Master," Severus replied as he pushed his thoughts of Lucius away for the moment. "You may call me Snape."
"You're Draco's Godfather, right?" Willow asked, "I remember seeing you in Diagon Alley on Friday."
"Yes, I am," Severus said, "what brings you to Hogwarts, Rosenberg?"
"Willow," she rolled her eyes, wondering if she was supposed to be scared by his frown and sharp tone. While she guessed she could see where some students might find his snarly attitude intimidating, she found it rather amusing that he was trying so hard to be gloomy and scary. Lucius was much more intimidating with a smirk and insult than Snape was with the sharp tone. She smiled sweetly, "We are colleagues, after all, aren't we Severus?"
"Professor Snape," he corrected with a scowl, a bit annoyed that she was unaffected by his glare. Silly girl, he thought crossly.
"Well, I guess if you don't want to be friends, I can accept that, Professor Snape," Willow said with a shrug, "If you'll excuse me, I'll be sure not to be friendly next time we meet."
"Miss. Rosenberg, you did not answer my question," he reminded sharply, "What brings you to Hogwarts?"
"Sorry, Professor, but that's personal and you've made it obvious that you don't want to even attempt to be polite," Willow said, "I really should be going. Have a good evening, Professor Snape."
"Bloody hell," Severus cursed under his breath, dark eyes glaring at her back as his thin lips reluctantly twisted into a slight smile. He moved forward, calling out, "Wait, Willow. I shall escort you to your room and we can chat along the way."
"Chat?" Willow asked, a gleam of triumph entering her eyes as he said her name. God, she was getting to be as bad as Lucius, she thought fondly. It was Snape's own fault, though, for being stubborn and rude and asking too many questions without even bothering to try to be polite. He was Lucius' only other friend besides her so she wanted him to like her, especially considering her theory regarding the complex nature of his and Lu's relationship. Luckily for her, Severus seemed the type who respected those that didn't meekly obey his instructions and were smart enough to think for themselves, two qualities she had in abundance. Willow turned to face Severus and smiled at him, "Thank you for walking me to my room, Severus."
"My pleasure, Willow," he nodded politely, though he was still cringing over the knowledge that he'd used the word chat and had allowed this little girl to best him. She was not some timid brainless girl, that was obvious, and he rather believed that she had just deliberately played him in order to succeed at having him call her by her first name. He had to admire her intelligence and now knew not to underestimate this redhead.
Pansy watched as the last Slytherin entered the dorm before she turned to Draco, who had just joined her in the dungeons. She said, "All Slytherin accounted for, Mister Head Boy, Sir."
"Bitch," Draco said lazily, his lips curving into a slight smile at her teasing grin.
"Thank you," she smiled as she leaned against the wall opposite him. Her hazel eyes swept over the blond wizard that had been an associate since childhood. To be honest, she was pleased at the change in their relationship. She was happy to be able to call Draco a friend and mean those words. They'd known each other for most of their lives, but had never really been friends. When they were younger, she had expected to marry him and become Lady Malfoy.
Admittedly, she had been pushy and clingy and rather obnoxious so she wasn't very surprised that he'd treated her as an annoyance and a constant reminder that his life was not his to control. He'd done everything in his power to let her know that he had no intention of marrying her just because it was what her parents expected and what his possibly wanted. Once she had finally realized that becoming Lady Malfoy was not in her future, she'd had to acknowledge that she was relieved.
Draco was handsome and wealthy and powerful, but he was also highly intelligent, sarcastic, witty, somewhat rude, and had the ability to make one feel stupid with just an arch of his pale gold brow. He was overwhelming, in all honesty, and she did not want a husband that was such a challenge. She wanted to be loved. Simple, really, but she had yet to find anyone willing to give it a try. Draco was far too complex for her, too complicated.
Pansy also suspected that the reserved and generally unemotional blond wanted to find a consuming love full of passion and devotion and desire, wanted to give himself completely to someone who wanted to give herself to him in the same way. Wouldn't the majority of Hogwarts be surprised to discover that Draco Malfoy was a closet romantic? She only knew because she'd spent so many years watching him, though she had little doubt he'd deny her belief that he was lonely and looking for someone to whom he could devote himself and that he really only wanted to be loved.
Once upon a time, she would have given anything to be that girl, to be the one that he held in his arms, to be the one that eased his loneliness, but, thankfully, she had grown up. Now, she could admit that she felt more pleasure being trusted by the handsome blond wizard and being considered his friend than she would have being his romantic partner. They just weren't a good match. There was no attraction, no desire, no sparks, nothing. She wanted passion, wanted to feel consumed by her need and love for another, had to believe that she would eventually find someone that she could love and that would love her in return.
She pulled her mind from such fanciful notions, having far more important things to worry about at the moment than falling in love. Voldemort was growing stronger, Lucius Malfoy was the new DADA professor, and her new friend, Willow, was working directly with one of the most dangerous of Voldemort's supporters. On top of that, the majority of her House wasn't at school this term, either fighting with Voldemort or leaving the area to remain out of the War.
"Do you plan on participating in this conversation," Draco smirked, watching Pansy shake her head and bring herself out of her thoughts, "or do you merely enjoy standing in the drafty dungeon hall lost in thought?"
"I was actually just thinking how odd it was that there are so few seventh year Slytherin this term," Pansy said honestly. She shrugged, "I guess a part of me had hoped that they would be smart enough to make their own choices and not simply follow their parents' beliefs."
"Parkinson, if your parents had not been killed last term, would you be here now?" Draco asked pointedly. He continued, "Would you have found the courage to tell them they were full of shit? To tell them that Voldemort is a crazy bastard that can be killed by that bratty Potter, of all wizards, and not worthy of devotion or loyalty? To tell them that you've realized over the years at this blasted school that there are some muggleborns and halfbloods that deserve to hold a wand, that there are some that are stronger and smarter than most the Purebloods?"
"I don't know," Pansy admitted softly, sighing as she ran a hand through her blonde hair. She looked into his gray eyes and felt as if he would understand what had been going through her mind lately. She began to talk, telling him her opinion, not caring if she was ranting, just wanting to tell someone that would understand. She confessed, "I've had my doubts about what they'd always told me regarding muggles and muggleborns for a couple of years, but I never gave it much thought. I did what I was told because they were my parents. It wasn't until they died, until I knew for certain that they were followers of You Know Who, that I realized that my first reaction to that news was disgust. I have no particular fondness for muggles and such, but that doesn't mean they should all be killed. It's such a ridiculous idea, really, and I don't see how anyone could believe it was right to slaughter people like that. It doesn't make sense to me, Draco. I am proud of my family's Pureblood heritage, but how does my pride in my lineage translate into killing people? Voldemort wants to make muggles and muggleborns his slaves, wants to rule over them as if they mean nothing, is willing to kill anyone that opposes him, even the Purebloods he supposedly places above all others. To think that so many wizards and witches that I have known since I was a child are following him without reservation, that they are blinded by the vague promises of wealth and power that he is probably making, that they are too stupid to realize that he is a power hungry bastard that doesn't care who dies in his struggle to be the one in control of everything, well, it makes me ashamed to be a Pureblood!"
"It doesn't make sense to me, either," he agreed softly, a bit surprised at Pansy's outburst. She had given this matter a great deal of thought, it would seem, which he had to admire. Her conclusions were similar to his own when he had been faced with his own choice after his Mum's death the previous year. It had taken all of the courage that he could gather at that time to face his Father and denounce Voldemort and the belief that muggleborns were worthless and that muggles were expendable.
Like Pansy, he had no particular fondness for muggles at all, but he had to acknowledge that he had met a small number of halfbloods and mudbloods at Hogwarts that were superior to most the Purebloods he knew. He said, "It took more strength than I even knew I had to face my Father and tell him I was making a different choice than what he planned for me. If it hadn't been for my Mum's death, I'm honestly not sure I ever would have found the courage to admit my own beliefs about the War. The others, the ones that aren't here, they either don't have the nerve to question what they're being told or they do believe all that Pureblood superiority rubbish. It took courage for you to get on that train today, Pansy, for all of us, really. I'm not ashamed of my blood, I'm proud that I had enough strength to stand up for what I believe in and to make my own choices. There may be fewer Slytherin this year, but those that are here have shown valor and strength and make me rather proud of our House."
"You're right," Pansy decided, rolling her eyes as Draco smirked.
"Of course I am," Draco smiled smugly as he wondered how they had gotten involved in such a serious conversation. It had been nice, talking to someone about what was happening and his thoughts on everything going on around them. It had provided them both with an outlet for their frustration over their classmates and the people they had somewhat considered friends as well as allowing them a chance to acknowledge that they were becoming friends and able to share such insightful discussions with one another.
"I guess I should go in and make sure everyone is settled," Pansy said, "I imagine the first years are a bit intimidated by the furnishings in their dorms."
"I remember Crabbe getting his hand stuck in the mouth of the snake over the fireplace in the first year dorm," Draco mused as a slight smile crossed his face. "Zabini and I collapsed on the floor in tears from laughing as Goyle tried to pull him free and only made it worse. Finally, I performed a minor spell that expanded the width of the snake's mouth and he was able to get his hand free." Draco sighed as he said, "And now Crabbe and Goyle are following Voldemort and becoming Death Eaters, and Zabini is stuck at Durmstrang because his family wants to remain neutral during the War."
"Willow looked gorgeous tonight, didn't she?" Pansy spoke up, wanting to change the subject and get Draco smiling again. It worked because he shook the memories away and smiled wickedly before he carefully concealed it with a polite smile.
"She looked very fetching," Draco said casually, gray eyes narrowing as he saw Pansy smirking at him.
"You were drooling on the table and ready to kneel at her feet and worship her yet you claim she looked rather fetching," Pansy said dryly, her eyes twinkling with mischief as she smirked, "you're so cute when you're infatuated, Malfoy!"
"I'm always cute," he informed her loftily, "though I prefer the words gorgeous and handsome, as you well know. And I am not infatuated."
"Oh, well then, I guess it wouldn't hurt if I encouraged Willow to see the many charms of someone else, say Harry Potter or even Neville. They did seem rather chummy, after all," Pansy teased.
"You will do no such thing!" Draco snarled, rewarded by her knowing smile and a laugh from the blonde witch.
"Oh, but you're not infatuated with the beautiful redhead from America," Pansy snickered, enjoying having the opportunity to tease Draco about something. He was usually the one doing the teasing or being the sarcastic prick.
"Piss off, Parkinson," he sulked, a bit annoyed that she was in a position to tease him in such a way. Of course, he was being a bit silly, denying that he was attracted to the redhead. It was fairly obvious that he was besotted with Willow, and he honestly had no intention of hiding his interest in pursuing a relationship with her once things settled down. He finally shrugged and said, "So I'm smitten with Willow. What of it?"
"I think it's sweet and that she'd be good for you," Pansy smiled, "I just wanted you to admit that you liked her and wanted to get to know her better. I like her and she's my friend so I wanted to know your intentions."
"Have you always been such an annoying brat?" Draco asked dryly, his gray eyes amused.
"Yes, I believe I have," Pansy nodded and grinned.
"Go check your first years, Parkinson," Draco rolled his eyes, his lips curving into a slight smile. "I already checked on Ravenclaw and, once you go inside, I've fulfilled my first evening of Head Boy duties."
"Are you still in the dungeons?" she asked, knowing that the rooms of the Heads tended to be located near their Houses.
"Yes," Draco confirmed, "not too far past Snape's rooms, with my own private bathroom that is reminiscent of the Prefect bathroom."
"Bragging is such an annoying trait," Pansy pointed out as he smirked. "Get some rest, Parkinson. We have double DADA tomorrow with Gryffindor," Draco frowned as he thought about his Father's new position at Hogwarts and the fact that Lucius would be working closely with Willow, which he didn't like at all.
"We'll keep an eye on Lucius," Pansy said quietly, "if Dumbledore thought he was a danger, he wouldn't be here."
"My Father is far from stupid. He's not about to try anything risky at Hogwarts. I just find it difficult to believe that he's going to be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts," Draco said, "he is very knowledgeable about the subject, but I highly doubt he has any plans of actually teaching. I assume that only time will tell whether my suspicions regarding his presence here are valid. In the meantime, as you said, we will do our best to be alert and keep an eye on him. I'll see you at breakfast tomorrow."
"Good night, Draco," Pansy smiled, "thanks for tonight, talking and listening. I feel better."
"Me too," he smiled slightly, watching as she entered the dorm. Once the door was shut behind her, he turned and headed towards his room. He noticed a light in Snape's classroom, deciding that his Godfather must be preparing lessons for the next morning. He almost stopped in to say good night, but decided not to disturb the dark-haired professor's preparations. Instead, he silently moved past the classroom, his eyes on the ceiling above him as he contemplated the events of the day.
Once he was sure that Pansy and Draco were gone, Harry moved from the shadows. He'd gone to the dorm and unpacked, but he'd wanted some private time to think about everything he had learned and witnessed over dinner. Ron had started a game of chess with Neville, neither boy apologizing for what happened at dinner or seeking an apology, instead silently starting a game as if nothing had gone on. Harry had decided to take a walk, grabbing his cloak and eventually finding himself in the dungeon. He'd not expected to find himself eavesdropping on a conversation between Pansy and Malfoy, but he'd been curious and had remained to see what they were talking about.
Now, he had to admit that he had misjudged them both. Neville was right. Both of the Slytherins had changed, or perhaps they were finally just being themselves. Either way, he had heard enough to convince him that they were on the same side. He'd also heard things that gave him more to think about, regarding that Willow girl, who it would appear was a friend of Pansy's and the object of Malfoy's infatuation, which was rather surprising but also, as Pansy had mischievously teased, rather cute. Also regarding Lucius Malfoy and Draco's distrust of his Father, and Harry was dying to know what Malfoy's suspicions were in connection with Lucius being hired by Dumbledore.
Harry knew now that Pansy and Malfoy and the other Slytherins at school this term were on the same side. However, he was going to continue on as if he didn't know, let them prove themselves in whatever way. He wasn't proud of eavesdropping on them, especially since he'd heard enough to convince him that they were on the same side, and he didn't want to alienate them by alluding to anything he may have overheard. He hadn't been lying at dinner when he said having Draco Malfoy on their side would be a good thing.
Malfoy might be a rude, stuck-up bastard, but he was also on par with Hermione when it came to intelligence, quite knowledgeable about the Dark Arts, had shown bravery and courage by standing up to his Father, sneakier than even he and Ron, and was a great ally to have on their side. It would appear that Pansy Parkinson wasn't nearly as awful as they'd believed, either. She was actually smart and rather pretty, Harry decided, and she'd made some valid points during her discussion with Malfoy. It was a nice kind of surprise to learn that not all Slytherins were the enemy, that some could be trusted, and that there was hope that they could all work together to defeat Voldemort.
Feeling much more relaxed than when he'd started his walk, Harry headed back to his dorm. He wasn't going to tell Hermione or Ron what he'd overheard in the dungeons. Ron was too stubborn to listen to anything he said in defense of the Slytherins so he knew it was pointless to argue with the redhead. In time, Ron would see that they were on the same side, and, after he was convinced they were sincere, he'd accept them without hesitation. Hermione was so smart that she didn't need Harry's overheard conversation to decide for herself what she thought about everything they'd learned that day, having already joined Ginny in extending a tentative but friendly hand to the Slytherins. Even before his eavesdropping, he'd about decided that Malfoy and the others were on their side, thinking that it made sense and was just like Malfoy to be unpredictable and completely ruin their perception of him by choosing to fight against Voldemort and his own Father. Hearing the conversation had just given him more support to his decision to trust them, and had opened his eyes a bit on their motivation and reasoning for choosing to stand with Dumbledore.
Harry decided that he'd see about meeting that Willow girl the next day. He was curious to see what it was about the pretty redhead that had someone like Malfoy smitten with her as well as counting amongst her friends such varied individuals as Pansy Parkinson and Neville Longbottom and Virginia Weasley and Hermione Granger. Ginny had been very impressed with the American, declaring her a friend and going on to talk about redheads sticking together and some nonsense about hair color that Harry had eventually blocked out. Hermione had confessed that she found the girl to be smart and friendly and thought they could very well become friends over time, if given the opportunity. Harry entered his dorm and headed towards his room, a slight smile on his handsome face. Tomorrow, he'd meet Willow and form his own opinion about the pretty new DADA assistant. Until then, he'd do his best to stop worrying about Voldemort and try to get some sleep.
Willow was not at all surprised to arrive at the rooms she was sharing with Lu to find the blond wizard nowhere in sight. She didn't know where he was, but she had a sneaky suspicion that it had something to do with her escort from the Great Hall, Severus Snape. Knowing Lucius, he was planning on a round of verbal sparring with his old friend before retiring for the evening. He had been anticipating Severus' reaction to hearing the news of his new position as DADA professor and was probably eager to play the part of 'Dangerous Death Eater' to annoy the Potions Master. If Lucius had, indeed, been waiting quietly for the opportunity to confront Severus regarding his new position at Hogwarts and delight in a bit of 'I'm a bad guy and don't you forget it' followed with an amused smirk, he must be rather annoyed that he'd not yet been able to participate in whatever conversation his mind had thought up.
Severus had walked her to her rooms, doing his best to be sneaky and ask subtle questions that would not raise her suspicions had she not been expecting such a line of questioning. She'd played her part, intelligent but slightly naïve, giving a variety of answers that had only seemed to confuse the dark-haired wizard instead of providing him with any evidence to support his theories, whatever they happened to be. She had spoken of Professor Malfoy with respect and just the right amount of admiration to confirm that Lucius was being polite and helpful to her in her new position. She had seen Severus' dark eyes narrow upon hearing how pleasant the Professor had been during their shopping trip to Diagon Alley, Willow explaining away his abrupt attitude and snarling disposition as a means of testing her.
By the time they arrived at her rooms, Severus was convinced that she was merely a pawn in a conniving game being played by Lucius and Albus. She had given no confirmation that she had been hired to keep a watchful eye on Lucius, though Severus had tried his best to get confirmation that she was assisting Albus in that task. She had also given no confirmation that she was aware of Lucius' ties to Voldemort or that she believed he was anything but a qualified DADA Professor who was charming and handsome and willing to assist her in the transition into the world of Hogwarts. She was comfortable playing this part, having an optimistic nature despite the evil she had faced in Sunnydale and learning years ago that the world was not black and white, but was instead shades of gray. It gave her a perceptive outlook on life, allowing her to accept both the good and bad in those she saw fit to trust and call friend.
By keeping her responses to Severus vague and simple, she had given a projection of slight gullibility and perhaps displayed a persona that was easily influenced. That was the outward image she and Lucius had decided upon, wanting any word that might possibly reach Voldemort to confirm Lucius' opinions of her and to give the Dark Lord a belief that she could be manipulated and used. She had never been particularly gullible, even as a child, so that was a bit more difficult to portray than merely being optimistic and trusting, two traits that she did, indeed, possess, though the latter was only in regards to her friends. In the end, she and Lu had chosen to go with a more naïve and unsuspecting aspect versus an extremely gullible and innocent view. She liked that much more than having to pretend she was unaware of everything going around her. She was able to maintain her intelligence with just the right amount of trust and belief that everyone surely had bit of good inside them, which some saw as naïve. She tended to see it as hopeful, a belief to cling to when facing vampires and demons and creatures of real evil. It was a part she could play because, in some small way, it was true to herself.
Willow looked up when she heard the portrait swing open, an amused smile crossing her pretty face as she watched Lucius come into the room. He was scowling and seemed annoyed, confirming her belief that he must have been waiting for Severus. She resisted the urge to giggle at the pout that overtook his lips as he sat down beside her, his pale blue-gray eyes catching hers as he arched a brow.
"What's so amusing?" he drawled lazily, finding himself relaxing as he settled beside the redhead.
"Nothing," she smirked, her green eyes flashing with amusement as she tried to look serious. "So, what mischief did you get up to this evening, Old Man?"
"Absolutely nothing," he rolled his eyes as he laid his head back against the sofa and looked at the ceiling. He sighed dramatically, "I had planned to converse with Severus regarding my position at Hogwarts and see what silly theories he had contrived to explain my presence here this term, but I grew tired of waiting and decided to postpone that amusing conversation for now. It will only prove more amusing to deliberately avoid him for a bit before having that discussion. I am sure he is suspicious and convinced that I am up to no good, as you would say. He'll probably become Potter's bodyguard or something equally foolish, all the while convincing himself that I am a dangerous and evil Death Eater. I must admit, I find it all rather amusing."
"You would," Willow smiled fondly before she mentioned, "I actually spoke with Severus after the meal."
"What?" Lucius' amused smirk faded as he turned his head to look at Willow.
"He's actually rather nice," Willow said thoughtfully, wondering if there was any truth to her suspicions regarding the exact nature of the relationship between her blond friend and the Potions Master. She had noticed the way Severus had spoken of Lucius, during those brief moments when he had mentioned her new 'boss', and she knew from listening to Lu that he cared about the dark-haired wizard far more than he admitted. She thought it was rather cute, the idea of a relationship between the two powerful and sarcastic wizards. She'd have to keep her eyes open and see if she was correct in her belief that there had been far more than friendship between them in the past and to see if there was a possibility of that relationship happening again. She'd love to see Lu receiving a happily ever after once this mess was finally over. She smiled slowly, "He was attempting to interrogate me regarding my position as your assistant and determine what I was really doing here. I must say, he was rather good with the sneaky and subtle questioning method, but I learned from an expert and was able to easily see through his Slytheriny plans."
"Slytheriny?" Lucius repeated with a slight snort, "Please refrain from using that word to describe my House. I fear it may compare with Voldy as being a particularly ridiculous term. As for Severus, I trust that you played your part and left the poor boy more confused than ever?"
"Of course!" Willow beamed, "He has no idea if my hiring was merely one of Albus' whims or if I am actually working with the Order. I also told him that you were brilliant and charming and very helpful and that I hoped to learn a lot from you."
"Bet that really got his knickers in a twist," Lucius smirked slightly, wishing he'd seen Severus' face when he'd heard the pretty redheaded muggle make that particular statement. He laughed softly, "He'll be convinced that I am either playing a wicked game with you and plan to harm you eventually or that I am attempting to woo you to Voldemort's side. Regardless of what he finally decides, he will do his best to be alert and interfere as often as possible. Did you have any difficulty regarding his interrogation? I know that you detest lying and feel somewhat responsible for placing you in such a position where lying is necessary."
"I do hate lying under normal circumstances, but this isn't exactly normal. Besides, it's not like I really had to lie. I was honest with my responses, it was just the manner of which I replied that was not exactly sincere," Willow explained with a soft smile, "I do find you charming and helpful, I just happened to tell him that in the appropriate tone of voice that caused suspicions regarding my susceptibility to your bad Death Eater influence. Besides, you can't honestly tell me you feel all that bad about bringing me into this mess. You didn't want to do this alone and knew that I'd enjoy it."
"True," Lucius smiled smugly, "Guilt is not a word that usually exists in my vocabulary and this is certainly not one of those rare occasions in which I use it. Despite the danger and seriousness of the plan and our actions, I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to share this experience with you, Brat."
"Me too, Pops," she smiled as she leaned her head against his shoulder. "I can't wait for our first class, but I'm also really nervous."
"It will be fine," Lucius said confidently as his arm went around her shoulders to give her a slight hug, "Once I have shown those foolish students that my class is to be taken serious and that they will learn much more than they ever suspected, it will be fairly entertaining and enjoyable."
Willow looked up at him and saw that he was looking into the silent fireplace. She wasn't sure how to approach what she wanted to say, so she finally said softly, "Draco will make a great Head Boy."
Lucius glanced down at her, his eyes flashing with emotion before he finally nodded, whispering, "Yes, he will. I am very proud of him, even if he is unaware of that fact."
"I'm sure he knows," Willow smiled slightly before giving Lucius a big hug. She whispered in his ear, "He may not say it, but he does love you, Lucius."
"I needed that," Lucius said quietly, hugging her tightly, wishing there was truth to her words even as he doubted that Draco would ever care about him.
Willow kissed his cheek and said, "I love you, Lu."
"I love you, too, Brat," he said with sincerity, finding it somewhat odd that he could say that word now with ease when there had been a time, just a year ago, that he had never expressed emotion with that four letter word. Just as she had taught him how to hug, Willow had begun to teach him how to love. He brushed a kiss against her forehead before he smiled evilly, his pale blue eyes flashing with amusement as he said, "It's getting rather late, Willow. I believe we should retire for the evening so that we are refreshed and ready to wreak havoc on our DADA classes in the morning."
"Good night, Pops," Willow said as she stood up, knowing it was still a bit early to go to sleep, but deciding that she'd use the extra time to write a letter to Buffy. She'd received an owl from her best friend the previous day in response to a letter she had written Friday evening describing her trip to Diagon Alley and meeting Draco, Pansy, and Neville. Needless to say, Buffy had a lot of questions about a lot of things, and about Draco, in particular. Willow would describe the Welcoming Feast and talk about the new people she'd met or observed and then she'd answer the questions about Draco and try her best not to be too obvious in her attraction towards the handsome blond wizard. Her thoughts drifted to Draco as she entered her room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
Lucius remained on the sofa, his thoughts primarily concentrated on the first day of classes and his plans for DADA this year. He had received approval from Albus regarding his curriculum for the sixth and seventh years, the other years receiving the basic classroom experience, though he did plan to focus more on protection spells and defense in case those younger children found themselves involved in the War against Voldemort.
His focus for the sixth and seventh year students would be defense and attack, the students having already learned the basic protections in previous terms. He did plan to review their skills at protection, of course, wanting to assure himself that they were properly trained. He had little regard for the previous DADA professors, knowing that only Lupin had been somewhat qualified to teach the class, though he had little faith in what a werewolf, even one that was a member of the illustrious Order, had taught the students during his term at Hogwarts. Though he had little doubt that that was the only term in the last seven years that the students had learned much of anything helpful.
This term would be different. He had plans to teach them everything they would need to know to prepare for the War against Voldemort. His focus would not be on protection, knowing that they needed to be ready to attack and defend themselves in a battle situation. They would not be able to merely protect themselves and hide. They needed to be able to defend themselves not only from the common Death Eater curses but also from some smaller known curses that were steadily becoming more frequently used in raids and such.
When he was finished with them, they would be able to defend themselves against every known curse used by the Death Eaters, attack using ancient magics that he had learned from books of Dark Magic and not shared with others besides Willow, as well as protect themselves and others in certain situations. A satisfied smile crossed his face as he stood and went towards his bedroom, preparing for a restful night of sleep before classes began in the morning.
Lucius woke early on Tuesday morning, the first morning of classes. His sleep had been pleasant and he woke feeling rather refreshed and prepared to begin his day. He was relieved that the Welcoming Feast was over and that a daily routine could now begin. While he tended to act in what others might view as an unpredictable manner, the majority of his actions were, actually, specific and thought out. He did not commonly act on impulse nor did he often make rash decisions.
His plan to teach at Hogwarts this term and to bring Willow into his world to assist him in preparing Dumbledore's student followers to face Voldemort, whether it be one final battle or years of endless skirmishes, had been devised over the course of several months. He had weighed every possibility, insuring that the results would be favorable and beneficial to his desired outcome. Willow claimed that he thought too much, and she was possibly correct in that belief, but she was just as guilty as he was when it came to possessing that particular trait. It was one of the many reasons they got along so well, he believed. He did not view himself as predictable, knowing that word would never be used to describe him, but he did enjoy having a bit of routine to his life.
In some ways, he was a creature of habit, which was rather contradictory. He loathed boredom, found repeating the exact same action day to day bothersome, had never occupied any type of position that required him to set a pattern for his days, but he did appreciate having a general routine and expectation of his days activities. He could never work at the Ministry with the rules and regulations and all those blasted meetings that never actually said anything, preferring his title and the ability to come and go as he pleased. The Malfoy empire consisted of a variety of companies and investments, he had a seat on the board at Gringotts, and even dabbled a bit in muggle investments since befriending Willow and realizing the potential of such an action.
He had an office at his home as well as offices at a variety of locations throughout the Wizarding community. This position at Hogwarts would be the first time since his own graduation decades ago that he would be stationary. It was intriguing, the idea of beginning a daily and weekly routine, of seeing the same faces constantly, of working in such a way. While a part of him was already yawning from the boredom of such a position, he knew it was necessary and simply a sacrifice that must be made in order to insure Voldemort's defeat.
Lucius appreciated the idea of routine, having developed his own various routines throughout his life. One did not need a steady position in one place to have a vague pattern of activity. He never allowed his life to become repetitive or dull, occasionally adding an unexpected trip to check on various overseas interests if he found himself becoming complacent or predictable. The Slytherin in him was cautious and suspicious, especially considering his links to Voldemort and the Death Eaters. If ones' actions could be anticipated, an enemy need merely choose a time to attack.
It did not matter that he had no enemy to speak of, one must always be alert to the possibility and prepare for such. He was not paranoid, his actions being second nature and not something of which he gave much thought, he was just careful. It was a trait that he had inherited from his ancestors, one that had allowed the Malfoy lineage to succeed throughout several centuries. Draco had inherited the cautiousness as well as the keen intelligence and quick thinking that were synonymous with the name of Malfoy.
The blond wizard opened his wardrobe and selected a robe made of the finest material, the color a charcoal gray that brought out the light gray flecks in his pale blue eyes. The robe was suitable for the first day of class and he was fully aware that he looked quite dashing and attractive in that particular color. Of course, he was a very handsome man no matter what color of robe he chose, his lips curving into a smug smile as he entered his bathroom. It was not arrogant to acknowledge the truth, he decided as he removed his pajama bottoms and stepped into the shower. He was nearly forty but could easily be mistaken for a decade younger.
He was not exceptionally tall, Draco being the first Malfoy in years to reach an above average height, but he projected an aura of power and confidence that caused his average stature to be forgotten. He could be quite imposing and threatening when the situation warranted, using his voice and eyes in a way that some men used their height and muscles. His body was sculpted and muscular, and, though he was somewhat slender, he had strength and agility.
He was quite proud of his looks, having used them to his advantage in numerous situations throughout his life, but he also had little doubt he would possess the same confidence and assurance regardless of how he looked. If he had been cursed with the face of a Weasley, his lips curled in distaste at that horrid comparison, he would have maintained the same level of self-awareness and presented himself as a most powerful and handsome wizard. Luckily, he was gifted with a handsome face and had no need to bother with issues of esteem.
Lucius laughed softly as he finished rinsing the soap from his body, able to hear Willow's voice in his head calling him an arrogant bastard for dwelling on his own good looks at such an early hour in the morning. It was an easy diversion, focusing his energy on analyzing his appearance instead of thinking about the beginning of classes. After his shower, he dressed and performed a drying spell on his hair, insuring that it was brushed and falling perfectly before he entered the common room. Pale blue eyes looked at Willow's closed door, his lips curving into a smirk as he realized that, for once, he was awake before the redhead. There would be a bit of gloating in his future, he decided, rather pleased at the idea of finally being able to tease her for sleeping in.
It was still quite early, classes not starting for several more hours. The blond wizard sat down to wait, soon reaching for a book to occupy his attention. When that failed to engage him, he decided to have a spot of breakfast in his rooms instead of waiting to eat in the Great Hall. A short time later, he heard a knock on the portrait, opening it to reveal a house elf carrying a tray of croissants and juice. As he ate, he went through his plans for the day. His first class was a double, Slytherin and Gryffindor. He would not only be facing his first class as a Defense Professor, but the class would contain not only Potter and his annoying friends, but also Draco.
He almost wished his first class had been something simple, perhaps second year Hufflepuff. Instead he was faced with a group that would be far from trusting, overly suspicious, and that needed his guidance more than any other because they were very important in the fight against the Dark Lord. It was the most difficult class that he had, honestly, and would require subtlety and slyness. Luckily, he enjoyed a challenge and was a master of subtle sneakiness.
After that double class, there would be lunch and then a class of fifth year Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff followed by a third year Gryffindor and Slytherin. Albus was still pairing the two Houses together that most loathed one another in some misguided belief that eventually they would see past their Houses and learn to work together. The silly old bat had been following that philosophy when Lucius, himself, was a student and it had never worked then, either. It was fortunate that there were only a few classes that required a doubling up like that, Potions and Defense being the constant two.
After third year, a majority of the classes became a mixture of all Houses or simply one House, depending on the class. Lucius hoped that this term would prove an exception, knowing that trivial things as House rivalry meant nothing when the students needed to work together as a group in the fight against Voldemort. When he had noticed Longbottom take a seat with the Slytherins, he had a glimmer of hope that the students could continue to be proud of their Houses but find it within themselves to work with one another when needed. Besides, everyone knew that Slytherin was the best House so it seemed foolish to risk defeat against Voldemort over petty House rivalry.
Lucius soon finished his breakfast, finding that he was not particular hungry. He drank most of his juice and ate bits of his pastry, but soon set it down. He stood and smoothed his robes, his left hand brushing over his hair and making sure it still fell perfectly. Content that he looked presentable, he left the room to go to his classroom. He assumed Willow would wake soon and eat breakfast with her new friends, his lips curving into a slight smile as he realized that he'd forgotten to ask her the previous evening if she had spoken to his son following the Welcoming Feast.
He was very pleased with the signs of attraction and interest that he had witness in both the pretty redhead and Draco, firmly believing that they would be a suitable match. After Voldemort was defeated and this game of subterfuge was complete, he hoped to see their relationship flourish, easily imaging a small child with the white-blond hair of the Malfoys and Willow's lovely green eyes, or perhaps his son's gray eyes and Willow's vibrant red hair. He would prefer the former, of course, not wishing anyone to possibly confuse his grandchildren with those annoying Weasleys, but he supposed a child with red hair would be acceptable.
The halls of Hogwarts were empty as he made his way to his classroom. When he entered the room, he shut the door behind him and smiled. It was bright and clean and welcoming thanks to his and Willow's efforts on Sunday. Blue eyes noticed that the flowers were drooping and he realized that Willow had not charmed them to remain fresh. He held his cane with his left hand and removed his wand, quickly replacing the flowers with fresh ones and charming these to remain fresh. Willow would be pleased, he smiled as he briefly touched the petals of the small flowered plant she'd placed on his desk. While he was not overly fond with the idea of having several small plants in his classroom, it did give the normally dark and dreary room a favorable fragrance and appearance. That did not mean, however, that he wished to have these flowers on his desk.
Lucius picked up the pot and moved to the back of the room, placing it on the desk he had transfigured for Willow's use. It looked much better there, he decided, thankful that he would not be forced to endure it in his personal space. It was lovely, but there were limits to what he would tolerate. Moving back to the front of the room, he sat down in his chair and looked at the empty desks. He sat that way for a while, contemplating a variety of topics, though most of his thoughts revolved around his first class. He was not nervous. Of course not. The idea was ludicrous. Malfoys did not get nervous!
Okay, maybe he was slightly nervous, though he cringed even admitting that in his mind. The Welcoming Feast had been entertaining, a performance to enjoy, reactions to appreciate, a good show all around. This, though, was different. This was why he was here, why he had created this elaborate plan and involved himself and Willow in such a risky venture. He did not care if the students liked him, didn't mind that they did not trust him, but he wanted them to listen to him, wanted them to learn.
Bloody hell, his plan was all for naught if they ignored his lessons and words and refused to consider that, despite being a 'Big Bad Death Eater', he was an expert at the Dark Arts and had a lot to teach them. He was lost in thought when the door opened, his lips curled into an annoyed frown and his eyes narrowed as he glared at the invisible students that he was certain would ignore his lessons and ruin his plans.
"Good morning, Lucius," Willow said as she entered the classroom, not surprised to see that Lucius looked a bit nervous and worried. When she had woken to find that he'd already eaten and left, she had known instantly he was concerned about the first day of classes. She'd hastily dressed, choosing a simple black robe for her first day as the DADA assistant. Snagging a croissant on her way out, she'd headed to the dungeons.
Lucius looked at Willow and smiled slightly, "Good morning, Brat."
"I know, I know...you were up before me," Willow smiled as she walked towards the desks, sitting on one and swinging her feet. She suddenly frowned and whispered, "The room is still charmed, isn't it? Do I need to watch how I'm speaking?"
"It is still charmed, my dear," Lucius nodded, "you are free to speak without worrying about being overheard. Are you not going to breakfast this morning?"
"Not today," Willow shook her head, "I grabbed a croissant on my way down here."
"I assumed you'd be spending time with your new friends," Lucius admitted.
"Lu, it's our first day of class! I want to spend the morning with you," Willow told him with a smile, "I can have breakfast with Pansy, Neville, and Draco some other time. Besides, I'm kinda nervous about the first class."
"I'm pleased that you joined me," Lucius smiled, noting that she had blushed slightly when saying his son's name, before confessing, "I will deny ever saying this, but I find that I, too, am a bit nervous."
"Deny saying what?" Willow asked innocently before laughing, "I thought you might be. It's going to be fine. It might take a little time for them to accept you, but they're going to have to see that you're sincere in teaching this class and that they can learn a lot from you. Besides, you've got me here to help you! It'll be great. Why don't we take a look at the plans for today? I may be nervous, but I'm also excited! Our first class will be here soon."
Draco walked out of the Great Hall with Pansy and Neville, the Gryffindor again defying expectations by sitting at the Slytherin table for breakfast. This time, he brought along She-Weasel, whom Draco found rather grating with her cheerful attitude and Weasleyness. He had scowled at her as fiercely as appropriate and the annoying wretch merely smiled and ignored him.
He was most displeased at having to share breakfast with a Weasley, though he guessed She-Weasel was the lesser of all Weasley evils because she at least had a bit of a snarky streak that any Slytherin could somewhat admire. Pansy had seemed to enjoy their company, after the initial discomfort of eating with relative strangers had passed. Draco had barely paid them any attention, in all honestly, much too intent on thinking about his Father and Willow and wondering where the two were, worried that the pretty redhead was being kept from eating by his bastard of a father, having little doubt that Lucius could devise some plan to slowly starve the Muggleborn solely for his own enjoyment.
There had been a time that he had admired his Father. He had looked up to Lucius, believing the blond wizard was a perfect example of how he wanted to be. Intelligent, respected, feared, wealthy, powerful. They were all traits that Lucius Malfoy possessed and Draco had spent years with his Father as his role model, wanting nothing more than to see a proud smile on his Father's face instead of the look of disappointment that seemed to always be there. Nothing he did had ever been good enough for Father, and Draco had worked his arse off trying to be whatever his Father expected in hopes he would eventually gain his Father's respect and love.
When he had been younger, Father had seemed pleased with him, teaching him magic from an early age, complimenting him on his progress and keen ability. Then, *he* had come back and everything had changed. Father no longer smiled unless it was a cunning and sadistic smirk. Father never laughed unless it was a soft chuckle over other's misfortunes. Father was never happy, not even when Mum gave him her best hugs and smiles.
Draco had still wanted his Father's approval, despite Lucius' change in behavior. He had heard of the Dark Lord, knew the stories, but he had been young and foolish and believed that his Father was perfect. He had never honestly considered that Lucius Malfoy, one of the most powerful and respected Purebloods in the Wizarding World, would actually take orders from a crazed and obsessed Madman, especially one that had been defeated by a mere infant. Draco had known that Father disliked muggles and mudbloods, having grown up hearing how worthless and useless such creatures were, believing that they were, indeed, lower than house elves. He had arrived at Hogwarts with that belief and philosophy ingrained inside him, having heard nothing but negativity regarding those pathetic creatures for most of his life. Disliking them was one thing. Vowing to rid the World of them was something entirely different.
Draco, himself, was not overly fond of the vile creatures. There were a few exceptions, certainly, but the majority were weak and simple and had no great purpose in life except to live mundane little lives and reproduce. He found them somewhat entertaining during the few occasions he had interacted with muggles, but he had given them little thought beyond their being around for his amusement. Mudbloods were a bit different. During his years at Hogwarts, he had seen true talent and intelligence in a minority of mudbloods. That had been what had gotten him to begin rethinking his Father's opinions, had caused him to actually form his own opinions. Granger was the brightest witch at school, as cunning as any Slytherin, besting even him in most of their combined classes, yet she was a mudblood. If his Father's teaching had been true, that would not be possible. He couldn't stand Granger or Potter and especially not the annoying Weasleys, but he was intelligent enough to admit that his Father might have been wrong.
That had started him wondering what else his Father was wrong about and eventually he'd realized that he had no interest whatsoever in following Voldemort or exterminating large numbers of people he didn't even know. He couldn't stand Potter, but that didn't mean he wanted to see the Boy Who Annoyed Him dead, especially not in heroic circumstances. It was intolerable as it was, the Potter worship, he could imagine how much worse it would be should the prat actually die a martyr or defeat Voldemort. If he was on Dumbledore's side, his own name would, at least, be bandied about along with Potter's and he might be able to bring true respect and admiration back to the Malfoy name.
After Mum died, he had known that it was time. He had bravely told his Father his opinions and walked away, still a bit amazed that Lucius had not hexed or cursed him for daring speak against Voldemort. Not only had Lucius not spoken against him, he had kept Draco's choice a secret from Voldemort, using Snape to conceal Draco's disloyalty to the Dark Lord. Draco was still unclear as to his Father's motivation to perform such trickery, but Lucius was complicated and cunning so Draco had given up trying to understand. Perhaps Lucius believed that Draco was merely rebelling and would one day eagerly serve Voldemort so he was trying to protect him until he changed his mind. Draco would gladly step in front of a curse aimed at that blasted Potter before he ever joined Voldemort.
He was concerned about Willow. He had only just met the pretty American, didn't really know anything about her beyond the fact that she was American, but he couldn't stop thinking about her. There was something about her, something that caught his attention in a way that no other woman ever had, and he had to admit that he was rather smitten with her already. It wasn't that she was beautiful. She was beautiful, certainly, but it was a natural beauty, one that could easily be overlooked or unappreciated when she was surrounded by women with flashy or false beauty. Looking into her eyes, he had felt as if he'd found a treasure, as if he'd seen what others failed to notice.
Merlin, he sounded corny even thinking such romantic notions. Anyone with eyes could see that she was pretty, with her pale flesh and crimson hair and laughing green eyes and charming smile. Not only was she visually attractive, she had proven herself to be quite smart and witty and somewhat sarcastic and any dozen of other traits he found himself admiring. He wanted to spend time with her, to know her better, to see if she had a similar reaction to him. Her working so closely with Father bothered him. He did not trust Lucius at all and was suspicious of what exactly had brought him to Hogwarts to teach, though he believed that the theory he and Pansy discussed over dinner was highly possible.
"Malfoy, you're thinking too much," Pansy said as she moved beside Draco. Her lips curved into a slight smirk as she said, "Wow. I never imagined saying that before!"
"It is far too early an hour to listen to your unamusing chatter," Draco informed her rudely, though his gray eyes flashed with amusement.
"I'm sure that she was getting ready for class," Pansy told him, having little doubt as to who was on his mind. It was either Lucius or Willow and, seeing that his lips had gone from a scowl into a slight smile, she had correctly guessed that it was now Willow in his thoughts. She not noticed him watching the doors to the Great Hall throughout breakfast and casting an occasional worried glance at the Head Table where two seats remained empty.
She had been surprised that Willow was not at breakfast, having discussed just that with Neville and Ginny, but they had decided that Willow was probably preoccupied with the first day of classes and busy preparing for the first class. Had Draco been listening to them, he would have known they'd all been a bit concerned. Even Ginny, whom Pansy had to admit she was surprised to see seated at their table that morning with Neville. Even more surprising, Ginny wasn't actually that bad. A bit annoying, though most Gryffindors were, and she tended to talk far too much, but she was brighter than a Weasley should be and she was rather amusing and quite observant, which Pansy rather admired.
Pansy had also noticed the shy glances the redhead had cast at Neville, who was completely oblivious to the younger girl's possible affection. Pansy was very observant, though, and she was not oblivious to those shy glances or the slight blush that crossed the otherwise outspoken redhead's cheeks when Neville smiled at her. As soon as the opportunity arose, Pansy planned to speak to Willow and see if her new friend also noticed Ginny's possible crush on Neville. If so, perhaps Willow would enjoy a spot of matchmaking. Pansy was always fond of sly deviousness, and this would at least result in a new friend being happy, which she supposed would make her feel good. She had heard that it was rewarding to do things for others, though she had little practice at such unselfish actions.
She had learned over the last day, though, that she rather enjoyed the idea of playing matchmaker, having already decided to attempt to get Draco and Willow together and she would just add Neville and Ginny to her list for a cunning plan to bring them together once she was positive her suspicions were correct. If those two plans went well, she might have to look around Hogwarts and study her fellow classmates to find future projects of romantic possibility. Doing such silly muggle-like actions was a nice diversion from Voldemort and an uncertain future and it also allowed her the opportunity to plot and plan and be subtle yet sly, all things that a true Slytherin found very enjoyable.
"Please get that vacant look out of your eyes and listen to me, Parkinson," Draco drawled lazily, not bothering to suggest that Pansy was actually lost in thought. His lips curved into a smug smile when she glared at him.
"I was thinking, Malfoy. While I know this is an activity you have little experience with, the rest of us find it highly enjoyable," Pansy glared at the smug blond wizard, resisting the urge to hex him just for fun.
"I wasn't aware that a dopey expression was a requisite for thinking," Draco smirked before he twisted his features into an exaggerated imitation of her thinking face. She was glaring at him more but her lips were twitching and a giggle escaped. He allowed his face to go back to normal and said, "Proper Slytherins do not giggle, Parkinson."
"Proper Slytherins also do not tease one another in the midst of a crowded hallway," Pansy pointed out with amusement, "so I fear that you and I just aren't proper, Malfoy."
"I am afraid you are correct, Parkinson," Draco sighed dramatically before he smiled slightly, "I rather like being improper Slytherins."
"So do I," Pansy grinned before she realized someone might actually see her smiling happily and let the grin fade to a slight smile. She didn't care what anyone thought, but it was far easier to be considered the bitch of Slytherin than to be viewed as a potential silly and happy Hufflepuff.
"What was so funny?" Neville asked as he joined Draco and Pansy, having seen them exchange smiles as they spoke.
"It was a Slytherin thing," Pansy gave him the perfected half smile, her hazel eyes shining with amusement as she looked at him.
"Did you finally get rid of She Weasel?" Draco asked lazily as the three of them started down the stairs towards the dungeon.
"*Ginny* has Herbology so I guess she's on her way to class," Neville shrugged.
"She's rather sweet, for a Weasley," Pansy spoke up, keeping an eye on Neville as she tested her theory.
"She's smashing," Neville agreed with a smile, "Ron wasn't at all pleased that she sat with us today, but she bravely told him to sod off when he protested. He'll sulk for a bit, but I'm certain he'll get over it eventually."
"Can we please not discuss Weasleys?" Draco shuddered, "I fear I might have nightmares!"
"They're not that bad," Neville defended his old friends to his new friends, rolling his eyes at Draco's dramatic behavior, comparing it to Ron's own dramatics, wondering if they'd hex him if he ever told them they were both obnoxious prats.
"What do you suppose we'll discuss in Defense?" Pansy spoke up, having no intention of allowing an argument about the Weasleys to occur. She wasn't a fan of the family, either, but she found Ginny rather nice and knew Neville liked the family so it was better to avoid such a discussion.
"I don't have any idea," Neville admitted. He knew that he, Hermione, Harry, Ron and several others had been discussing that class before breakfast, having participated in a brief discussion in the common room, and none of them had been able to figure out how Lucius Malfoy would run the class. He said, "We talked about it this morning and we couldn't decide what he was going to do with the class, though we all agreed that it would probably be another year of learning nothing useful."
"My Father is brilliant and very knowledgeable about the Dark Arts," Draco defended sharply, his gray eyes narrowing as he thought about the Gryffindors insulting his Father. He didn't trust Lucius and doubted they would learn anything in Defense that year, but he didn't want others speaking in such a way about his Father. He had to tolerate the talk about Lucius being a Deatheater because it was true, he had little problem hearing of hatred and dislike for his Father because he felt similar emotions the majority of the time, but he did not have to listen to the students infer that Lucius was not qualified to be a teacher of Defense. Lucius was overqualified for such a silly position, having more knowledge about the Dark Arts than any except possibly Dumbledore and Voldemort, and it would just be his choice to not share his expertise with his students and not because he lacked an understanding of the subject. He frowned as he looked away, speaking his thought, "I highly doubt he shares his expertise with us, however."
Nothing else was said as they reached the Defense classroom. Walking inside, eyes widened as the students noticed how clean and bright the room was. There were even flowers on a desk in the back, a nice aroma filling the normally nasty smelling room. It was a light fragrances, not overpowering, just pleasant enough to cover the smells from the Potions room down the hall. Vanilla and possibly something flowery, Pansy decided. The bookshelves were free of dust, the titles spines brightly colored and visible.
The normally dark room was light and comfortable, not at all dismal or unwelcoming. Stunned students entered slowly, exchanging surprised glances with one another and whispering about the changes. Pansy and Draco sat together, Neville taking the table behind them. She watched as Potter, Granger, and Weasley came in, their mouths hanging open slightly as they saw the condition of the room. They entered just as the others had, looking around and trying not to show their obvious surprise. Granger sat next to Neville, and Potter and Weasley took the table beside them, leaning across the aisle to whisper to Granger and Neville. She exchanged an annoyed look with Draco, neither particularly fond of the Golden Trio sitting directly behind them.
There were fewer students in this class because of the lack of Slytherin at Hogwarts this term. Pansy counted six Slytherins and fourteen Gryffindors. Soon, all of the students had arrived. There was no sign of Lucius or Willow, which was a little surprising. She had assumed Willow would be there, knowing the desk in the back had to belong to the redhead. A smile crossed her face as Willow came through the door and smiled.
"Good morning," Willow smiled at the students, hoping they couldn't tell she was nervous. Lucius was in his office up the small flight of stairs, preparing himself for the next stage of the plan. They'd spent the morning getting ready, going over notes and making sure that his plans for the first class were subtle enough not to draw too much suspicion regarding his true loyalty but enough to let the students know that this would not be their typical DADA class.
He wanted to make an entrance, of course, so he had asked her to give him a few minutes alone to allow himself to get into character, if you will. She'd gone to see Severus and wished him a good first day of classes, giving herself something to do so she wouldn't start pacing or dwelling on her nerves. She had intended to be there when the students arrived, but Severus had begun a brief discussion with her, the observant Potions Master noticing her nerves and chatting, though she had little doubt he'd deny ever doing anything as trivial as chatting, to give her mind something else to dwell upon. She would have given him a hug for the diversion but didn't think he was quite ready for such an affectionate gesture. Instead, she'd given him a smile and gone back to the room to find that most the students were already there.
She paused at Draco and Pansy's table, greeting them as well as Neville and Hermione before asking them about their breakfast. She barely looked away from Draco, her eyes caught by his, and she found herself agreeing to sit with them over lunch. She heard the door upstairs begin to open and knew Lucius was about to begin class. Giving them one last smile, she started to walk to her desk, noticing that Harry Potter was looking at her curiously. She gave him a brief smile, realizing that she'd not yet met the Boy Who Had Such a Heavy Burden and decided to try to speak to him before the end of the day. She had just taken her seat at her desk when Lucius walked out of his office. He was dressed perfectly, not a hair out of place, a smirk on his lips as he walked down the stairs to the main classroom.
Lucius surveyed the students coldly, his pale blue-gray eyes looking at each of the faces quickly before most even realized he'd committed their face to memory. His eyes lingered on Draco, seeing that his son was not looking at him, instead focusing on the desk. Stubborn bastard, Lucius thought fondly, though his face did nothing to betray his positive thoughts regarding his son. Instead, he looked smug and aloof, the image he wished to project. He raised his chin slightly, giving the impression that he was looking down his nose at all of them, an action he had perfected when he was a teen, and said snidely, "Welcome to class."
Lucius was pleased with the general reaction from the class upon his words of welcome. The majority of students appeared slightly frightened, but they were watching and listening to him. If it took fear to get them to pay attention, so be it. He hoped that they would soon realize that, while he might be an evil bastard, he did plan on teaching them everything they needed to know to successfully fight Voldemort and his followers. Besides, it was rather amusing to see fear in the eyes of these children, though he’d honestly prefer their respect and admiration. The Malfoys were one of the oldest and most distinguished of the wizarding families. They should be looked upon with respect and a small amount of fear. Fear was a necessity because it represented the power and authority and skill of the one feared, so it was familiar to any Malfoy as well as a limited number of other powerful Pureblood families.
Fear meant many different things, however. There were many levels of fear. Lucius had witnessed a majority of those variations during his nearly four decades on this planet, enjoying them all in his own way. Over time, though, he had learned to appreciate the slight respectful fear so much more than the stark fear of someone who knew they were about to die. He wasn’t a total bastard nor was he a monster, though many would disagree. The look of pure fear had once given him a sense of power, but now it did nothing more than make him nauseous and remind him that achieving power out of fear and murder was not at all fitting to one of his breeding and intelligence. Power meant nothing if gained in such a way, easily taken away if the threat was removed.
Like any good Slytherin, Lucius loved power and authority, but, unlike Voldemort, he had no intention of gaining it by intimidation and fear because he was not foolish enough to believe such power was long lasting. Besides, he already had power and respect not only from being a Malfoy, but also by his actions over the course of his life. Lucius believed in looking beyond the now, in planning his future, and he was not about to lose the prestige and respect he had spent his entire life earning and maintaining. Malfoys had been respected for centuries, despite some questionable actions in the past, and he thoroughly planned on continuing the tradition of power and admiration for his family even if it meant playing nice with Dumbledore. The slight fear in his students’ eyes, that was something he could enjoy because he had little doubt it would eventually fade as they had to, even grudgingly, admit that his Defense class was the best they’d ever had. It made their current fear so much more fun and he definitely planned on using it while it was there, if only to make his days a bit more pleasurable.
He noted which students were listening because of fear and which students were listening because of suspicion. It was no surprise that Potter and his little group fell into the latter category, and he felt something akin to respect to the scarhead brat for not showing any fear. True, Lucius was by no means the worst of Voldemort’s Deatheaters. He had never participated in a raid, distancing himself as much as possible from such vulgar pursuits even when he had foolishly followed the Dark Lord without reservation, nor had he raped and tortured his way through muggles like some of his associates. He had, however, planned many of the raids, was responsible for recommending the torture or deaths of numerous enemies, and had tortured and killed during meetings, when required, without hesitation.
He was not the worst Deatheater in regards to his death count or participation in those offensive raids, but he was possibly the most dangerous because of his cunning, knowledge, intelligence and any number of other qualities that made him a formidable foe. He was also Voldemort’s favorite, though the competition was so pathetic that he took no great pride in that title. It was almost amusing that Voldemort was considered such a dangerous threat yet he surrounded himself with buffoons and wizards of Pureblood but little skill or intelligence. These children, not yet adults, were possibly more intelligent and definitely more adept at magic than practically all of Voldemort’s followers, save himself and a few others. With the proper training, which he planned to provide to them, there would be little chance of Voldemort succeeding, even if he attempted to use the darkest magics.
Lucius continued his silent perusal of his students, not giving them any indication that he was aware of their fear or suspicion or that he was lost in thought. He finally pushed thoughts of Voldemort and his past from his mind, concentrating on the task at hand. The silence was uncomfortable, which was what he wanted, and soon the students were beginning to look at one another and fidget. His lips curved into a slight smirk as he decided it was now time to officially begin class. He moved his fingers along the front of his robe, insuring that it was straight and in place, watching with satisfaction as eight students moved their hands closer to their wands. Potter and his little gang along with Draco and Parkinson, plus two students he did not recognize, though he noticed they were wearing Gryffindor colors. He finished straightening the front of his robe, though it was already perfectly in place, and finally began to speak.
“I am Lord Lucius Malfoy. You will address me as Professor Malfoy,” Lucius began, having debated on whether or not to insist they call him Lord even during class before deciding that he rather liked being called Professor, though he’d never admit such a thing. He kept his voice smug but authoritative, not wanting to indicate to any of them that he was actually enjoying this ‘welcoming speech’ nor that he was there for their own good. He did not walk amongst the aisles, he did not lean against his desk, he simply stood at the front of his class with his posture befitting Pureblood nobility and his head raised enough so that it gave the impression of looking down upon them all. The students gave him their complete attention, even those that were weary of him, curious to hear what he would say as well as watching closely for any signs of danger from someone they considered such a threat.
“This class is Defense Against the Dark Arts,” he said slowly, the smirk on his lips twisting slightly as he said the word defense. He continued looking at the various faces of his students, making eye contact as he spoke. “The class begins promptly at nine and ends at noon. There will be a ten-minute break at precisely half past ten. I do not tolerate tardiness. If you can not arrive on time, you will not participate in class. The door will be firmly closed at exactly nine and again after the break. If you are not in your seat by that time, you will not be allowed in the room. I will not have my class disrupted by such an disturbance nor do I have any intention of wasting my valuable time teaching students that can not find it within themselves to be prompt and courteous.”
Lucius watched the faces and saw a few about to protest, most likely those that were always tardy. He did notice that the Granger girl seemed rather pleased with his announcement, almost smiling as she cast a smug look at her friends. She might not be that bad, for a mudblood, he finally decided, before continuing, “I will not tolerate tardiness, disrespect, or laziness. There will be no outside discussion once class begins. The subject you are here to learn is the Dark Arts, not Quidditch or gossip or any topics other than those relating to the Dark Arts and Defense. A large portion of this class will be interactive. You will be required to participate in discussions, offer opinions, ask questions whenever you feel the need, and complete any assignments that you are given. However, if I hear so much as one word about Quidditch unless it involves the Dark Arts, one muttering about another class or professor, one whispering about whom is involved with whom amongst your silly classmates, I will waste no time in assigning detention.”
He studied them all to make sure they took note of the seriousness of his words. He was not merely speaking to hear himself talk, though he did always enjoy giving speeches and having everyone looking at and listen to him. For this class, he planned more extreme measures than the other classes. It was vital that these students, as well as the other seventh years and possibly the sixth years, were prepared for whatever Voldemort did. He hoped that they would never find a need to use the knowledge that he taught them, but they would have it in case the situation arose. He and Willow had discussed possible solutions to aid in getting the students to work together and forget their House rivalries while in this class and had come up with a few options. Besides, everyone knew that Slytherin was the best House. He paused for a brief moment, deliberately lulling them into a sense that the worst was possibly over before he added, “To the entire class. If one student receives detention for violating my expectations and rules, you will all receive detention. By the way, I plan to oversee all detentions personally.”
“That’s not fair!” Hermione spoke up quickly, not all pleased at the idea of receiving detention for actions that were not her own.
“My dear Miss. Granger, whomever told you that life is fair was entirely mistaken,” Lucius said with a smug smile at the Head Girl before he continued, “In this class, you are not Gryffindors or Slytherin. You are merely my students so House points will be given and taken away from both Houses consecutively when I feel such a frivolous action is necessary.” He noticed the shocked looks on most of the students’ faces, taking a moment to look at Willow and see her resisting the urge to giggle. Instead, the redhead winked at him and smiled, letting him know he was doing well. He nodded discretely at her before he saw Granger about to speak again. With a smirk, he interrupted before she could begin and said, “Yes, Miss. Granger, Headmaster Dumbledore is aware of my unique views regarding detention and points and he has approved my actions.”
“As you see, my rules are fairly simple. Arrive on time, pay attention, participate, question, listen, think, learn, and complete your assignments. If you do not feel that you will meet my expectations,” he gestured towards the door, “you may now leave. As you know, this class is not required. I am certain they could find a place for you in Divination or Muggle Studies,” he did little to hide his disgust at even saying the names of those courses before he continued, “If you choose to remain, you are agreeing to my conditions for this class and committing yourselves to following my rules and obeying my instructions. You have sixty seconds to make your decision.”
Lucius looked at the students and waited, giving them a chance to leave, finding that it would go far easier if they chose to remain in his class now that they were aware of his expectations and rules as well as the fact that he was the professor. Draco merely glared at him, though his son’s gray eyes were contemplative and curious. The others were glancing at one another and doing their best to communicate without actually whispering amongst themselves. He was pleased when each student remained in their seat, his eyes moving to catch Willow’s briefly as he resisted the urge to smile at the redhead. Instead, he looked at his students, a sly smile crossing his lips as he said, “We will now begin class.”
The students were giving Lucius their full attention. His rules had surprised them, being far more strict than any other Professor. It was ridiculous to hold the entire class accountable for one another, but the Headmaster had given his consent and that meant they had to be on their best behavior in this class. Even if they were rival Houses, none of them wanted to lose points or receive detention, especially when that detention would be with Lucius Malfoy. So they saved their hushed whispers for their break or lunch, they did not write notes back and forth discussing the various thoughts in their minds that ranged from why Malfoy had set up any rules if he was merely here as an agent of Voldemort to surprise over how intelligent and eloquent Malfoy Senior was.
Lucius was pleased to see that they were at least listening to him. His eyes looked to the back of the room at Willow. With his practiced smile, just enough frost and sneer to avoid suspicion, he introduced her, "This is Willow Rosenberg. She is an America mu-," he deliberately paused as though he had caught himself before saying 'mudblood', "-ggleborn and she is my assistant for this class. Should you have any questions or problems, she is whom you will speak to. I will not be bothered with such matters. You may address her as Willow, at her insistence, but do remember that she is a member of the faculty and treat her as such."
Willow hated having people look at her, resisting the urge to stick her tongue out at Lu for deliberately drawing attention to her. He hadn't told her he planned to introduce her! Smug bastard, he was obviously enjoying himself, the students a bit scared and a bit curious. She noticed how he had discretely warned them to give her the respect and consideration they would give any professor without drawing attention to the fact that he had done so. She gave the students a weak smile as they all turned to look at her, making a mental note to smack Lucius after class when she noticed him smirking at her in an all too familiar way when the attention was not focused on him.
"Do stand up and say something, silly girl," Lucius drawled, taking note of which students turned to glare at him for sounding rather insulting to his assistant. Interesting. If looks could kill, Willow would be planning his funeral from the glare Draco had just sent his way. Longbottom, Parkinson, Granger, and, surprisingly, Potter had all turned to give him 'a look' when he snapped at Willow.
"Yes, Professor," Willow said as sweetly as possible, even as she was resisting the urge to giggle. Silly girl? He was so paying for that! Wonder what he'd think if she changed all his fancy schmancy robes to dark burgundy and gold, she thought with a slightly wicked smile. Knowing him, he'd merely arch a brow and inform her in that snotty tone he reserved for company that burgundy looked good on him. Oh well, it wasn't like she didn't call him Old Man constantly anyway, but she didn't say that in front of others so it wasn't exactly the same. She stood up and felt as awkward as she always did when having to speak publicly. "Um, hi. I'm Willow. As Professor Malfoy said, I'm here if you have any questions or you need anything."
She quickly sat back down, fully aware that her face was probably the color of her hair. She fought vampires and demons, was a pretty powerful witch according to Lucius, was even valedictorian of her senior class, yet she got nervous and flustered merely talking in front of a large group of people. She had gotten better at it, though, after taking over Jenny's class during her Junior year. It was mostly the 'everyone looking at her' part that made her a bit nauseous, but this hadn't been too bad. It had helped that she had a few new friends amongst the students. If he planned to make her do this during every new class, she'd be much better at it after a few attempts.
"We will now discuss your first assignment," Lucius informed the class as he finally moved from his spot at the front of the room. He retrieved a scroll from his desk as Willow began to pass around the scrolls he had prepared especially for this class.
"Our first assignment?" Ron muttered, "We've only been in class half an hour!"
"Shh," Hermione hissed, having no interest in receiving detention because Ron was grumbling. Though she would not admit it to her friends, she was rather impressed with Lucius Malfoy. He was not at all what she had expected. She knew he was intelligent and cunning, his son inheriting those qualities, but she had believed that this class would be the worst Defense class of their seven years. Assuming that Lucius was merely there to spy for Voldemort, she had expected that they would not do anything except read from their book with him spending the class time glaring at them from his desk. His rules were strict but fair. And, while she wasn't thrilled about being punished for her classmates' actions, it would mean that they would be required to work together and develop a tolerance, at least, of one another.
Malfoy's rules would certainly result in more House unity than any of Dumbledore's previous attempts, something she doubted the Deatheater and favorite of Voldemort even realized. Now he was preparing to give them an assignment, on their first day, not long after class began. If he continued in this way, strict but fair, and he actually *did* teach them, something Hermione was holding her judgement on until she had experienced a few classes to see what his assignments consisted of, Lucius Malfoy could very well become one of her favorite Professors. Well, except for the dangerous, scary, wanting them all to die, Voldemort follower thing.
"Willow, please hand out the scolls," Lucius instructed, making it a request instead of an order to prove that he was attempting to be polite to a muggleborn to further confuse anyone paying too much attention. While she began passing out the scrolls, he told the students, "Your first assignment is to complete the scrolls that are being given to you. There are several questions that you are required to answer completely and honestly."
Draco took the scroll from Willow, his fingers deliberately moving over her hand in a casual caress. Gray eyes met green as they both felt the spark when they touched, her eyes widening slightly as his fingers brushed against her skin. He wanted to kiss her, then and there, not caring that they were in the middle of class or that they were surrounded by others. He'd dreamed of her since they met, felt an attraction, a connection to her that he had never imagined experiencing, and he didn't care that they hardly knew each other and had only just met. He was pulled from his thoughts of snogging her senseless in the middle of class when a sharp elbow made contact with his side. His head turned quickly, eyes narrowing to glare at whomever had dared hit him. He saw Pansy roll her eyes and discretely nod to the front of the class where his Father was droning on about the assignment. Right, not the time nor the place for his first kiss with Willow. He needed to focus, to pay attention to every action Lucius Malfoy made and every word he spoke so that Draco could figure out what exactly was going on and what Voldemort had planned.
Willow quickly handed out the rest of the scrolls, her cheeks tinged with pink from the encounter with Draco. Holy Hellmouth, to borrow one of Xander's favorite expressions. His hand had felt good against her skin, his lips had looked so tempting. She'd nearly ruined everything by being distracted by Draco's inviting lips and those gorgeous gray eyes. Lucius couldn't very well give out the assignment if she's smooching his son, could he? Of course, since Lucius was constantly going on and on about her becoming involved with Draco, he might actually forgive her for disrupting class in such a way. She pushed thoughts of Draco smoochies to the back of her mind and gave Lucius her attention.
"Now that everyone has the scroll, you may open it," Lucius informed the class. He curved his lips into a devious smile appropriate for tormenting teenagers and said, "You will find several questions on the scroll that you will now answer. They are basic enough that I doubt even any of you would have difficulty responding."
"Professor," Hermione raised her hand as her chocolate brown eyes looked at the questions, receiving the briefest of nods from Malfoy before she continued, "are we to be graded on this? Is there a wrong answer? What do you expect us to say?"
"Miss. Granger," Lucius spoke slowly, his tone slightly mocking, "I would have imagined you to have no problems replying to these questions, with being as outspoken and opinionated as you are." He saw her smile slightly at his words, surprisingly accepting them as the compliment he had intended though he had assumed they would be considered insulting. He rather like this girl, he decided, hoping that his Willow became friendly with her. They were a bit alike, though Willow was far superior to the know-it-all little Gryffindor, both being the rare exception the normal useless Muggleborn witch.
"So you wish us to simply answer the questions?" Hermione clarified, wanting to insure that they were not being tricked and would receive failing marks regardless of how they responded to the generic questions.
"Yes, Miss. Granger," Lucius continued in the same mocking tone, "you shall not be graded upon the answers, merely upon the fact that the scroll is completed. There are no wrong answers and I expect you to be honest in your replies. Are there any other foolish questions? Good, I expect you to concentrate and give each reply serious thought. You have twenty minutes before your break, though you will have time following to complete the scroll."
Lucius finished with his instructions before he moved to sit down behind his desk. Pale blue eyes watched the students as they read the scrolls and began to answer. Willow had given him the idea for the scrolls when they had been discussing the plan and what he hoped to achieve. She had suggested asking questions in an essay form, explaining that such questions were common amongst muggle classes in a few subjects and that it would be a way for him to evaluate the students by allowing them to evaluate themselves. It had been a splendid idea, one that he could use to provide insight into his students, their strengths and weaknesses, while seeming like some 'busy work' as Willow liked to call it. They would have no idea that he would actually be studying the scrolls and making notes on what areas needed concentration and what areas the students already possessed knowledge in.
"This scroll is defective," Harry whispered, "my words just disappear. It's charmed or something."
"I'm having no problems with mine," Hermione whispered back as she continued to answer the question regarding her favorite subjects. The questions were rather silly, in all honestly. There were about a dozen asking about favorite subjects, strengths, weaknesses, least favorite subjects, areas of Defense in which they felt they were strong, areas they believed themselves to be weak, expectations for Defense class this year, topics they wished to learn, and a variety of other things that seemed rather useless and merely a way to give them something to do so he wouldn't have to actually teach.
There were a few questions that could be considered useful information for Voldemort, though she highly doubted he gave a knut as to what their weak areas of Defense class were or what they feared, so she doubted this was some evil ploy to obtain information on the students. Had it been anyone other than Malfoy, she'd have assumed they were curious about their students and wanted to know more about them. As it was, she assumed it was simply a list of questions he believed would be difficult to answer and would cause some distress amongst them.
Harry glared at the scroll and again tried to answer the question regarding his favorite classes. Quidditch was his favorite, but that wasn't an actual class so he knew it wouldn't count. He wrote 'Transfiguration' and watched as the words again disappeared. He finally raised his hand and sighed, "Professor Malfoy."
"Yes, Mr. Potter?" Lucius drawled, a pale brow arching as he looked at the wizard.
"My scroll, it's, well, I think it is defective," Harry explained, feeling a bit foolish, especially when Lucius Malfoy was looking at him with that smug expression.
"Ah," Lucius smirked, "You were lying."
"What?" Harry glared, not at all pleased about being called a liar by a Deatheater of all people.
"The scrolls are magic, Mr. Potter. They are unable to accept falsehoods," Lucius smiled smugly, "I did tell you that I expected honest replies. Surely you did not believe I would simply accept your responses as truth. Such trust and respect must be earned, not merely given without hesitation." Lucius looked into Potter's green eyes, his voice lowering slightly as he said, "Besides, what you wish to believe is true is not always reality. This assignment is intended to allow you an opportunity to appreciate your strengths and accept your weakness. It is only when you embrace both strength and weakness, acknowledge the good and bad within, that you know who you really are. At that time, the world is yours, though not literally, of course. Knowledge, power, courage, love, so many things available, all within your reach, merely from learning and accepting who you are." Pale blue eyes narrowed slightly, "I suggest you give the question serious thought, Mr. Potter, and try again. You might be surprised by the truth."
"Yes, Professor," Harry said softly, shocked that Lucius Malfoy had said something so intelligent and meaningful without the usual sneer or smirk. Lucius was right, though. Merlin, he'd just agreed with a blasted Deatheater! He didn't trust Malfoy at all, knew the man was dangerous, but there had been truth to his words. Harry looked at the scroll and thought about the subjects he had taken, finally writing down 'Potions' and 'Charms'. He loved both those classes, but Snape was a greasy git that glared all the time and Charms was rather childish so he'd not wanted to write it down originally. The words remained where he had written them. His lips curved into a smile as he began to answer the other questions, curious to see what else he liked to believe about himself wasn't entirely true.
"That was very eloquent, old man," Willow whispered to Lucius as she handed him a glass of water, using that as an excuse to let him know she was proud of him for showing Potter just a very slight glimpse of the real Lucius Malfoy that she considered one of her best friends. It had been very discrete and his words did not risk suspicion, but she knew that they had come from Lu and not Professor.
"Of course it was," he informed her with a smirk, having not planned to give Potter such advice, but believing that it had been useful and not been a risk to his cover. Willow gave him a smile that no one else could see before she returned to her desk at the back of the class. He took a drink of water, his eyes looking over the students who were busy completing their scrolls. Class had gone well, the remainder of this class would be occupied by their break and finishing the scrolls. Following that, he might begin a discussion about their previous Defense classes to keep them occupied until class ended.
He had little doubt that Willow would eat lunch with her new friends so he planned to have a house elf bring him something to eat so he could begin working on the plans for the next class and possibly start reviewing the scrolls. He had considered going to the Great Hall for lunch to make an appearance and to perhaps have a chat with Severus, a bit of entertainment to break up the monotony of the day, but he had finally dismissed that idea. In all honesty, he was looking forward to a bit of private time in which the charade could be ignored and he could simply relax and be Lucius before having to begin the act again once class started. He enjoyed the acts, both the Professor and Voldemort's loyal supporter, finding them a bit of fun and a challenge, but he was beginning to look forward to a day in the future when he could simply be Lucius Malfoy. Resisting the urge to sigh, he instead said, "Put your quills down. It is time for your break. You have exactly ten minutes."
The rest of his first class went well. The students were still cautious, but they were curious enough to see what he had planned for them they that did not disrupt class. When they returned from their break, they completed their assignment and the remainder of class was spent discussing the areas covered during sixth year. Lucius had quickly learned that he had his work ahead of him. The students were surprisingly bright, though he would never admit that to anyone other than Willow, but they had not had a real teacher in this class in years.
The Gryffindors had more knowledge of some of the rarer defense techniques, most likely working together in their efforts to defeat Voldemort and learning outside of class. That showed they had initiative and were willing to train and learn to fight the Dark Lord, which was definitely a positive in his opinion. The Slytherins, however, had more knowledge of the darker magics, most likely things they had learned from their Housemates or from their parents, in the case of Draco and Parkinson. He gave the impression that he was not listening to their class discussion even as he took mental notes of whom said what and the areas that required more focus before he began their real training to face the Dark Lord.
When class ended, the students began to leave. His lips curved into a smirk when he saw his son lingering behind, the boy having divided his time between glaring at him suspiciously and sending longing looks towards the back of the class where Willow sat and took notes. He was waiting to see if his son proved to be a Malfoy by asking Willow to lunch, rather amused at witnessing Draco's behavior around the pretty redhead. He sat back in his chair, his eyes on his son and Willow, his position preventing the remaining students from seeing his interest in the two at the back of the room.
Draco couldn't believe he was this nervous just asking Willow to sit with him and Pansy at lunch. It was a casual invitation amongst new friends, not even a date or anything romantic, yet he literally felt butterflies in his stomach and wasn't at all pleased with feeling so insecure. It was damn annoying, in fact. He prided himself on being in control of his life, something that he had taken years to gain. His life had never been his own until after his Mum's death, until he'd finally faced his Father and made his own choice for his future. Since the evening that he had denounced Voldemort and refused to follow in his Father's footsteps, he had been the master of his own destiny.
It had been quite a rush, suddenly having power over his own life. He had spent years trying to be what Lucius wanted, doing everything he could to earn his Father's respect and admiration and love. It had taken nearly sixteen years for him to realize that nothing he did would ever be good enough, that Lucius would never be proud, that there would always be something wrong with his actions, that his Father didn't know how to love. His decision to oppose Voldemort had never been out of any deep fondness for Muggles or Muggleborns, Draco having little use for the creatures regardless of which side of the War he chose to fight upon.
No, he had gone against Voldemort initially because Lucius wanted him to join the Dark Lord. It was rather childish and silly, but it was true. There were no lofty ambitions to be a bringer of peace amongst the Wizarding community or a hidden appreciation for Muggles and such. He had simply been a rebellious child choosing a path completely opposite of that which his Father wanted for him. After his initial decision, he had realized that he had made the right choice.
He'd always had reservations about Voldemort, finding it difficult to pledge his loyalty and life to someone who could be defeated by that brat Potter and having issues with being anyone's minion, not being fond of taking orders at all. Draco was not really a follower, preferring to make his own path or be his own leader. It had never made sense to him that his Father was such an eager follower, having always believed the elder Malfoy to be strong and independent and brilliant, far too smart to meekly do some evil wizard's bidding regardless of the rewards offered.
He had spent his life looking up to his Father, wanting to emulate the man that commanded such respect and awe from the Wizarding community, loving to walk in Diagon Alley with Lucius and see everyone cower with fear or simper with admiration. Draco had spent years trying to be like his Father, spying on Potter, gaining attention in whatever way possible, bullying those that could be controlled, basically doing everything he had seen Lucius do during his early years. When he was fifteen, he had to accept that he and his Father were not the same. He could think for himself.
He rebelled at the idea of following Voldemort, killing and torturing and raping acts of a common Muggle and not befitting his Pureblood nobility. The idea of marring his skin with a brand, of stupidly pledging his loyalty and devotion to a wizard that had been defeated by a baby, was simply ridiculous. Draco was selfish enough to know that he would never risk his life for the cause of ridding the world of Muggles and Muggleborns. Besides, if they were gone, whom would he be superior over? As long as they were around, he had status and prestige by having Pureblood. It had taken him many months before he finally accepted that he would risk his life to fight Voldemort and his followers.
At first, Draco had considered remaining neutral, perhaps going away to a different school with Zabini and remaining out of the fight. Over time, however, he had learned more about Voldemort, gained knowledge about the Deatheaters and their plans, and he had to acknowledge that it made him angry, what they were doing. He wasn't used to caring about anything that didn't affect him personally, but he had spent hours talking to his Godfather and had been horrified at the things he had heard. No one, not even Muggles, deserved to be treated in that way. He had said as much to his Godfather, declaring that he would fight with Dumblebore and Potty and the others because there was no way he could simply sit back and watch without doing something.
That was the moment when Severus remarked that he was proud of him, the first time anyone had ever spoken those words to him. He had not regretted his decision at all, growing up in that short time and realizing that there were some things in life worth fighting for, acknowledging that his life until then had been spent being selfish and spoiled and caring only about himself. He was still rather spoiled and quite selfish, but he liked to think that he had matured over the last year.
He was grateful that Willow had not met him years ago, knowing that he would have automatically dismissed her as inferior just because of her blood. He would probably have treated her as horribly as he'd treated Granger, if not worse, since she was also American and he was attracted to her. There had been a brief time near the end of fifth year that he had felt a hint of admiration towards Granger, but it had not lasted long at all and never moved beyond an acknowledgement of respect for the intelligent Muggleborn. He was far from perfect, though he'd never admit to any faults, but he had become a better person during the last year.
He knew it was foolish to even consider that Willow might be interested in getting to know him since they'd just met and hadn't even had a real conversation that hadn't mostly been witty banter, but he had to see if she felt the same connection and attraction he felt. He thought she did, having seen the awareness in her lovely green eyes and having heard Pansy's belief on the subject, trusting the witch to not lie to him about such things. With the belief that Willow might be willing to give them a chance to at least talk and see what happened, his gray eyes became determined as he picked up his books and walked to her desk. She looked up at him and smiled, his lips curving into a slight smile in reply, "Willow, would you like to sit with me, I mean, us, that is, Pansy and myself, at lunch today?"
"I'd like that a lot, Draco," Willow said softly, finding him adorable when he was trying to be nonchalant but stammered a bit out of nervousness. She watched him smile, his eyes flashing with pleasure at her acceptance of his invitation, and she felt the tingles in her tummy that he always seemed to cause. She glanced at the front of the room and saw Lu smirking, most likely knowing exactly what his son was asking and obviously pleased at them talking. The redhead looked back at Draco and said, "Let me just finish up here and make sure Professor Malfoy doesn't need anything else and then I can go to lunch. I can meet you there."
"We'll wait for you in the hall," Draco told her, not wanting to leave her alone with his Father any more than necessary. He didn't trust Lucius at all, especially not around a Muggleborn witch. He turned to glare at his Father, finding the man watching them, his eyes unreadable and a familiar sneer on his lips. He said softly, "If he tries anything, we'll be outside."
"Thank you, Draco," Willow replied as she gathered up her notes and started walking towards the front of the class, to Lucius' desk. She saw Draco join Pansy and Neville, the three of them walking outside, though Draco seemed reluctant to leave, his eyes suspicious as he glared at his Father. She smiled brightly and called out, "I'll be right out guys," watching him leave before facing Lucius. The blond wizard was no longer sneering and giving off an impression of evil danger that he'd deliberately projected to mess with Draco, instead smiling smugly with a pleased gleam in his pale eyes. She rolled her eyes, muttering, "You're such a bastard, Lu," even as her lips curved into an affectionate smile.
End of Part 45