A/N: Disclaimer's in the first chapter.
October 8, Hogwarts
Draco had received a letter from his mother the night before. This had been fairly unusual, because normally, letters and packages were received at breakfast. But along with so much else, evidently this too had, at least temporarily, gone by the wayside.
Not that, once he opened the letter and read it, he much blamed his mother for wanting to get this to him as quickly as possible.
They, like the other Death Eater families, had been stripped of much of their wealth, left with only the bare minimum to survive on. Given Lucius' rather high-profile place at Voldemort's side, that left them in an exceedingly vulnerable position. Anyone with a beef against Lucius could take it out on them. And while his mother was a formidable woman, she could not hope to keep all the vultures at bay alone, and with few resources. Seeking the protection of her natal family's Head of House was the only way to keep the both of them safe.
It surprised him not at all that Sirius Black required Unbreakable Vows of them, given the situation. His mother had no qualms about accepting that stricture. Draco ... was waffling. Not because he wanted to continue in his fathers' footsteps, but because he wasn't sure he could handle taking a subordinate position in the Family hierarchy to Potter, whom he was very, very sure Black would have named as his heir, until and unless Black married and had children of his own. A state of affairs Draco knew would not change if he accepted a place in the Black family, despite him being more closely related to the Blacks than Potter was, given that his mother was a Black, and it was Potter's grandmother who'd been a Black.
On the other hand, he also had no illusions as to what would happen if his mother accepted Black's offer and he didn't. He'd be completely, totally on his own, with next to no funds and no support whatever. Which was a state of affairs not to be borne.
It galled him that he had to choose between being what amounted to an unwanted tagalong or being completely alone in the world. Or it did, until he realized there was a third option. One he'd seen two of his Housemates taking full advantage of earlier this morning. Perhaps it would be feasible for him to make his own path ... with the Council. Granted, he would have to become acclimated to the Muggle world, but how hard could that be? And in the meantime, he had a better-than-average working knowledge of demons and Dark creatures already, and was quite capable of defending himself. Better still, from what he understood of the way it was supposed to work, every Slayer was supposed to have a Watcher ... but from everything he'd seen, and comments he'd heard, the Council was low on Watchers and magic wielders of any variety.
The question was ... would they want him? Be willing to trust him? Then, he remembered who one of their people was. A vampire. Surely if they could accept a vampire, they could accept him. But just to be sure ... he decided to talk to the vampire in question. It couldn't possibly be harder than talking to Xander.
Spike wasn't all that hard to find. Draco had noticed that, if all hell wasn't breaking loose or he wasn't otherwise busy, the vampire had a tendency to find somewhere to sprawl out in the sun. Draco still wondered how the heck that was even possible, actually. Perhaps he'd be able to find out. At any rate, Draco found Spike sprawled on the front steps of the school, eyes closed and looking entirely too happy for being an creature of evil.
"Was wonderin' when one of you brats was goin' to try'n corner me." Spike said, eyes still closed. "So what's it, then?"
Draco sat down a bit away. "My mother is seeking refuge with Head of her natal Family ... which happens to be Sirius Black."
Spike peeled an eye open a slit. "An' you're not thrilled about that idea."
Draco snorted. "Not a bit of." He admitted. "Not only would I have to kiss Black's ass, I'd have to kiss his heir's ass too ... and if he's named anyone other than Potter as his heir, I'll be extremely shocked."
Spike sat up. "And you're taking umbrage at going from heir of one Family to ... not even being considered as a 'spare heir' for another."
Draco blinked. "How ... ?"
Spike snorted. "I was born in a time when that sort of thing was still a big deal in what you call the muggle world. So I know how it goes."
Draco sighed in relief. At least he wouldn't have to explain the finer points of inheritance and status, then. "My only other choice is to go it alone, which is ... shall we say, impractical in the extreme." He shook his head. "I'd have some small amount of money from whatever's left of the Malfoy fortune, but ... "
"Not much, and you'd be doing worse than starting from scratch when it came to forging alliances." Spike said, then gave Draco a narrow-eyed look. "Unless you got a leg up by working with someone who has the backing and influence you need to get off the ground, and a way to make a name for yourself separate from your father. But you're wondering if we'll have you."
Draco gave a nod. "I'm not interested in being evil." He said. "Never really was. Yes, I gave Potter a hard time, but that was mostly because I honestly don't like the goody-two-shoes." Aside from that, he'd mostly settled for running off at the mouth, which was hardly the same as going around hexing people.
That made Spike throw his head back and laugh. When he finally managed to stop, he gave Draco a slightly fangy grin. "Sounds like me'n Harris, back in Sunnydale. Couldn't stand the brat, and he hated my guts. Didn't help I thought he had all the survival instincts of a suicidal lemming."
"So what happened?" Draco wanted to know.
Spike grinned again. "Harris grew up." He said. "Simple as that, really. Grew up and wised up, and stopped being such an annoying wanker. Started usin' his head for more'n holding a hat." And had learned to fight well enough to, if not kick Spike's ass, then to put a serious dent in it, but Spike wasn't about to say that. "So Potter might annoy the hell out of you right now, but in a few years ... who knows? But to answer your other question ... if you can handle the muggle world, they won't have a problem lettin' you join. Let me join 'em, didn't they?" Even before he'd had a soul. Not to mention that they hadn't killed or exiled Willow when she'd gone darkside on them. They'd even let Faith come back after she'd sided with the enemy. "They'll probably want you to finish school, first."
Draco shrugged. "Fair enough. Though really, I only need to complete my OWLs. The NEWTs won't really matter as much, if I'm not staying in the wizarding world."
Spike gave an amused snort. "Y'better see if you can handle the muggle world before you go making those plans." He pointed out. "Think it's going to give you a surprise or three." Billion. "Given how screwed the year's been to now, might be possible to work something out where you take your books with you and do the assignments long distance, or something. We can talk to McGonagall about it."
Draco nodded. "Fair enough. I better head back in. I've got a letter to write." He just hoped he was making the right decision.
In the Gryffindor dorm, Harry was being faced with something fairly unprecedented, in his experience. A huge mass of letters, all encouraging him to come work for various people or wizarding organizations when he was done with school. It had brought the issue of his future into rather sharp focus.
There had been a time when he'd wanted nothing more than to be an auror. But now, being a bit older, and having dealt with the Wizarding world's capricious nature ... and the corrupt nature of the Ministry ... he wasn't any too sure that's what he wanted anymore.
Oh, he knew that Amelia Bones was planning on cleaning up the Ministry. And given how popular she was, she had every chance of being elected as Minister in the election in two week's time, which would enable her to continue her efforts for a while to come. But at some point, she would no longer be Minister, and there was zero guarantee that her successor wouldn't be as brainless, corrupt and ineffectual as Fudge had been. And Harry refused to work for people like that.
Not to mention that with the whole 'boy who lived' thing, and his role in Voldemort's final defeat, people were, one again, worshipping the ground he walked on. Which was incredibly annoying on all counts. And Harry had no idea how long it would last before everyone decided he was an up and coming Dark Lord and needed to be put down for the safety of the wizarding world, or some such idiocy.
His current popularity made ... well, pretty much all the offers ... suspect. Were they asking him to work for them because he was good at what they did (or showed signs of being good at it) or because he was the 'boy who lived'? A few of the offers, it was rather obvious they wanted the 'boy who lived' regardless of his abilities, due to what they said and what they were offering if he'd work for them. But most of them ... well, he had no way of knowing. Which annoyed the hell out of him.
On the other hand, the Council didn't give two hoots about the whole 'boy who lived' thing. They needed people who could do research, and magic, and watch the backs of the myriad of Slayers on their payroll. Better yet, Harry knew for a fact that Xander was dangling every juicy temptation he could think of in front of Remus to get him to join the Council, and that Remus was better than halfway to actually agreeing to it, simply for the fact that his lycanthropy was a complete non-issue with the Council people. And Sirius was tempted as well, being even more jaundiced in his opinion of the Ministry and the wizarding world than Harry was, for rather understandable reasons.
Harry decided to go find Xander and talk about it, and shoved all the offers into a ball that he carried downstairs and chucked into the fireplace to burn. It amused him that Xander was also a reason to get a job with the Council. Over the last few months, Harry had become rather fond of Xander, seeing him as something of a big brother. A big brother that gave Bill Weasley a run for his money in the cool department.
Actually, now that he thought of it, he really wanted those two to meet. Bill hadn't been able to get away from his job in Egypt in time for the fighting, given how fast it had all happened. Harry rather thought that Bill and Xander would get along like a house afire.
If the two boys had any idea they were making much the same decision, if for different reasons, both boys would have been completely and utterly horrified.
Daphne was hard-put not to blatantly stare at Xander as they left the teacher's lounge just before lunch. The two of them had ended up talking for hours, and the things Daphne had found out! Even sitting there, seeing the dead-serious look on Xander's face, it was nigh on to impossible to believe.
She had also decided, very firmly, that for all Xander had a healthy dollop of Slytherin in him ... more than several of her Housemates combined, actually ... he also had a huge dollop of Gryffindor in him ... or had had, as a teen. Because there really was no other explanation for jumping into demon fighting with both feet and next to no training.
Not that he'd copped to the not having training, but Daphne had been able to read between the lines of what he'd said. And it had been blatantly clear that he and his friend Willow had been woefully unprepared for what they'd gotten themselves into, and had stayed that way for a long time to come.
Frankly, it made their success all the more noteworthy. These people, barring Rupert Giles, hadn't had a clue what the hell they were doing ... and they'd won anyways, against some heavy odds, if Xander's expression was anything to go by. Which, she admitted, was mostly what she had to go on, as he had a rather distressing tendency to skate over the bulk of the details.
Nor had Xander been the only one talking, as she had found herself explaining various bits of wizarding culture, tradition, and customs, and, insofar as she knew, how things had gotten to the state they'd been in just prior to the Council's arrival.
Daphne gave a purely mental snort. If she didn't watch it, she'd start to get a crush on Xander. Not that many people would blame her. She'd seen the way many of the fifth, sixth, and seventh year girls had been eyeing him. Xander himself seemed to be hilariously oblivious to their interest, which was probably for the best.
Daphne had been just about to spit off from Xander hand head for her usual spot at the Slytherin table when Harry came trotting in and headed straight for Xander.
"Hey Xander, can I talk to you after lunch?"
Xander grinned at him. "How about during? After all, there's no rule that says I have to eat at the Head table." He pointed out.
Harry grinned. "That works."
Daphne shook her head and went on her way, wondering what it was Harry wanted to talk to Xander about.