Autumn was upon them, and with it, a new school year. Draco would occasionally bring students' work with him to grade. Hermione was interested in their coursework, and he allowed her to peruse the parchments.
"Do you like teaching?" she asked.
"Sometimes," he said. "These are NEWT students, I'm not sure if I would enjoy teaching first years." After a pause, he continued. "My seventh years were first years when we…when I was a seventh year."
"What a first year to have had," she said. He did not reply.
Hermione chewed her lip thoughtfully. "You started teaching the next school year after graduation, yes?" she asked. He nodded.
"Was is strange going back as a professor so soon?"
"Very," he said. "There were so many students who had been there when we were. Perhaps I should have waited a few years before taking the position."
"Was it always your intention to teach?"
A faint pink color went across his cheeks. "No. To be perfectly honest, I never actually considered any sort of profession, not seriously."
"What changed your mind?"
He looked away, and sighed. "The name of Malfoy used to mean something," he said. "Money, status, influence, and a long and pure bloodline." He laughed bitterly. "What does it mean now? Traitor," he said, his eyes dark. "Except to the inhabitants of Malfoy Manor and their society. Oh, they're embarrassed, mortified, to be sure, that their Dark Lord failed. But their minds are still convinced that their principles were correct. They've learned nothing."
"It takes time though, time to recover. Dumbledore said it was easier to forgive someone for being wrong that to forgive someone for being right."
The name Dumbledore seemed to pain him, and she immediately regretted saying it. She longed to reach out, to touch him, to comfort him, but she knew he would not allow it.
"They will never believe that they were wrong. Do you know," he said, his eyes widening, "that my parents and their friends have talked seriously of moving to France? Things are different there," he nodded. "Pure-blood is still 'worth something' there, according to my father."
"But not to you?"
He looked deep into her eyes. Her breath caught in her throat. "No, Granger, not to me," he said, his voice gravelly. "Everything I was raised on, all of the dictums, they were all wrong."
"But your family…"
"Malfoy Manor is no longer my home. And I belong nowhere. I accepted the teaching position because I had nowhere else to go."
"A defeatist attitude serves no one, least of all you. You said the name Malfoy used to mean something? You have choices. You can make your own name, choose for yourself."
"Who will forgive me, or even seek out my acquaintance? The other professors tolerate me at best, and aside from them, I have no interaction with anyone."
"You're sitting here with me, aren't you? Make more of an effort with them, Malfoy. "
"You're the only one I want to talk to," he said, quietly, not meeting her eyes.
A warmth spread across her chest, but she didn't know what to say.