Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry
Unplottable location, Scotland
He didn’t dawdle, but as usual he certainly didn’t hurry on his way to Reconciliation that day. Through the castle he trudged during the last few minutes of passing time, his mind entirely elsewhere as he navigated the dwindling stream of other stragglers. Just outside the headmistress’s office, however, he was physically jolted back to awareness when something very much like a Quaffle hit him in the chest. He gave a violent start and would have fled, but at the last second he realized he’d merely run slap-bang into another, shorter, student.
“Sorry,” they offered in unison, although the other person added, “Idiot.”
Draco knew that voice. He looked down at the student who lay sprawled on the corridor floor at his feet: Granger.
She glared up at him. “You might watch where you’re going!”
Exactly two weeks had passed since her comeuppance in the Entrance Hall at the hands of the headmistress, fourteen days since the world had finally – finally – held Gryffindor’s Golden Girl accountable to the standards set for the rest of them. The memory would have made him smirk but for the fact that his body had been shocked into full flight mode by their collision. “I could say the same to you,” he countered irritably, rubbing at his chest to hide the trembling of his adrenaline-laced hands. “Your head should be classified as a weapon.”
Any other student in Draco’s position would have offered a helping hand; anyone other than Granger would have expected it. Instead he smoothed down the front of his robe while she struggled to her feet, studying her from behind the cover of his untidy hair as his brain niggled that there was something off about her. She was thinner than she’d been the last time he’d seen her, and she had dark shadows under her eyes, but neither seemed to satisfy his instinct. What was it . . .
“I could lodge an assault complaint against you, you know,” she groused.
If he wasted any more time, he’d be late. “I’m the one with the bruised sternum.” He turned toward his destination. “Enjoy detention, Granger.”
“Enjoy Reconciliation, Malfoy,” she shot back.
At the door to the classroom Draco paused, realizing what, exactly, had been wrong with her: she’d had no school bag. What sort of class-time detention didn’t involve schoolwork? And what self-respecting swot didn’t have every other book she needed for school? But there were far more pressing matters at hand, like surviving Reconciliation. Dismissing the little mystery, he took a deep breath, then slipped in and took his usual seat in the far corner of the very last row.
“We finished the exercise,” murmured Greg, who sat beside him. “It’s just lecture now.”
He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “Thanks.”
Greg returned to his notes, which, as usual, were as painstakingly neat as they were slowly written. Draco watched in fascination as his childhood friend mouthed each word he wrote, pausing at times to sound out a particularly difficult one. It looked hellish, and yet not once in all the years they’d sat in classes together had Greg complained about his difficulty in school. Unlike Draco himself, who complained constantly and had comparatively nothing to complain about. Aside from the obvious.
He turned half his attention to Professor Hipthripple’s lecture, storing every image and sound in his prodigious memory. Prodigious: that was what his mother called it – but what did she know? What was so impressive about never, not ever, being able to forget something no matter how hard one tried?
Greg had paused and seemed to be counting syllables on his fingers. Draco took pity on him; “r-e-s-o-l-u-t-i-o-n,” he offered quietly. He didn’t offer to write his notes; he knew what Greg’s response would be.
“We lessen conflict between ourselves and other individuals or groups when we come together and negotiate in a reasonable manner.” the professor explained. “This is resolution.”
The problem with most of the people he had conflicts with, Draco mused, was that he’d begun the trouble in the first place. That tended to make people less willing to negotiate. And the people he didn’t have conflicts with – well, that was usually because he’d been the one trying to be reasonable. Trying to get along. A particularly vivid memory of him trying to be reasonable came to mind, one involving- He forced his attention back to the lecture. Fortunately, his memory made it possible for him to forgo note-taking in his classes. Unfortunately, it allowed him more time to think, and the problem with that was his brain had a tendency to dwell on things best Obliviated.
“Let’s do one more exercise today.”
At her words, nearly half the students gave a quiet groan. Draco shrank down in his seat and then, realizing he was still half a head taller than Parvati Patil, who sat in front of him, leaned down to fiddle with his school bag.
“Any volunteers?” the professor asked. When she was met with silence, she laughed. “Have I given you too much to think about today?”
It appeared there was to be a reprieve; he sat up. Unfortunately, the motion caught Professor Hipthripple’s eye. “Draco! Thank you very much.”
His heart began to pound, and his stomach dropped all at once down to his feet. He fought the dizzying sensation as he considered his options. He could stand quickly, faint, and be taken to the infirmary, or he could stay and take it on the chin; there really was no in-between. The one earned him no points while the other did. It always came down to points.
“Aaaaaaand . . .” the professor glanced around the room. “ . . . Susan.”
At least it was Susan Bones; she was a Hufflepuff and therefore lived for resolution. Maybe she’d do the entire exercise herself.
“Now,” said the professor, “Let’s say Susan has done something to Draco – something that has hurt him deeply – and there’s conflict between the two. And, since their jobs require them to work cooperatively, they need to solve this. How can they find resolution?”
Every eye in the classroom turned to him. Most bore the relieved expression of those who’d escaped the spotlight; some looked mildly sympathetic; a few were downright smug.
“I should apologize,” Susan answered promptly and, in the prescribed format of every Reconciliation exercise, she stood to act out her answer. “Draco, I’m sorry.”
Could it be as simple as that? His heart beat even faster.
“No, no, no,” Professor Hipthripple argued, “that’s too easy. What if you think you had every right to do what you did?”
Susan looked confused.
“Susan, you’ve been a bully. Remember, bullies don’t apologize for their behavior.”
It was true, he thought, and bullies liked their ‘behavior’. Especially when they got away with it. He himself had spent several years glorying in all kinds of ‘behavior’ – but he’d learned from the best, hadn’t he? As if to prove that true, his brain supplied him with a vivid memory of-
“He should confront me,” said Susan, mercifully interrupting his internal discourse.
A wave of nausea washed over him, and he looked down at his desk. The thing about confronting bullies was that it rarely worked outside of theory.
“Oh, well done, Draco!” Professor Hipthripple sounded pleased. “That’s a very accurate portrayal of what happens far too often. Ten extra points for that.”
He glanced up in surprise, but she’d already directed her attention to the rest of the class. “Victims rarely speak up for themselves.” She turned back to him. “But in this case, the two of you must find resolution. Are you ready?”
How many times had she asked him that in the past year? His answer was still the same. Nevertheless, he braced a hand against the wall and sucked down several quick lungfuls of air, trying to think his way through the one exercise he couldn’t even fake. He needed the points.
He looked at Susan, who’d probably never harmed another living thing in her life outside of self-defense – and she’d only needed to do that because of people like him – to find her smiling at him, understanding glowing in her kind eyes. There was a roaring sound in his ears.
Bullies didn’t deserve compassion; without them, there’d be no need for resolution because there’d be no conflict. No conflict. Why couldn’t they all just forget conflict? The room tipped sideways as his heart took rapid flight and his breathing raced to keep up.
“I-” he gasped. It seemed to echo off the classroom walls. He tried again. “I-”
“Class dismissed.” Professor Hipthripple seemed to swim as she directed the students to the door, and her voice sounded very far away. “Greg, please wait in the corridor.”
Greg complied, making room for Susan Bones, who dropped down beside him in the manner of someone who knew exactly what to do. “It’s okay, Draco,” she murmured.
The room was too loud, too hot, too bright. “I- I need to get out of here.” He scrabbled at his tie with trembling fingers.
“You can go wherever you like after a Calming Draught,” said Susan. “The professor’s getting one from her office right now. Can you breathe with me in the meantime?”
Nodding wildly, he followed her lead, taking as slow and deep a breath as he could manage in the moment. Inhale. He was aware of nothing outside his narrow range of focus but Susan. Exhale. The classroom was comparatively silent now in the absence of students, the sounds of their synchronized breathing resonating through the empty space for several long minutes.
If anyone had asked, he’d have shrugged off his immediate compliance as an automatic reaction to the situation and then redirected the conversation to something altogether different. Quidditch, maybe. Truth was, this wasn’t the first time Susan had done this for him – but no one else needed to know the extent of his problem.
Then Professor Hipthripple was kneeling beside his chair, a familiar vial in her outstretched hand. He gulped down the Calming Draught, focusing on the interaction between the professor and Susan as the potion worked its magic.
“Thank you, Susan,” said Professor Hipthripple in a tone that was as kind as it was unyielding. “You may go.”
Susan looked between them with a worried frown, but she stood obediently. “Yes, ma’am.”
The sudden absence of his previous panic combined with the powerful draught to create the strangest sensation of not really being in his body at all; it also slowed his thought process to a merciful crawl. Draco watched as Susan picked up her school bag and turned toward the door, and it occurred to him in a detached, delayed sort of way that he should thank her. Instead he laid his head down on his desk and closed his eyes.
Quiet movement at his side eventually roused him from his torpor; he opened his eyes to find the room swathed in twilight. “You did well today,” said Professor Hipthripple.
He gave a noncommittal hum.
She was speaking again, but he was so mesmerized by the combination of Calming Draught and the soothing tone of her voice that he missed most of it. “. . . What do you think of that?”
Draco opened his eyes and lifted his heavy head. “I’m sorry; I wasn’t listening.”
“Your probation meeting has been rescheduled to the morning of graduation day so you and your mother will be able to attend both.”
He stared at her for a moment, his drugged mind finally making the leap to her implication. It couldn’t be.
Professor Hipthripple beamed at him. “Congratulations.”
“I’m not . . . I can’t . . . ” He hadn’t earned all his Resolution points. On top of that, he’d taken the Dark Mark; regardless of his motivation for doing so, it meant he couldn’t graduate before he’d served his entire probation –and then only with the approval of the Ministry.
“I’ve kept the Department for Post-War Studies apprised of every student’s progress this year, Draco. Yours has been remarkable, and in light of that fact I recommended you for timely graduation. I don’t have to tell you what that means.”
Graduation meant he could leave Hogwarts and complete his probation at home. Home. The very word caused his heart to contract painfully. “Does my mother know?”
She nodded. “The Ministry sent an official letter, but don’t you think she’d like to hear from you?”
The floating feeling was beginning to wear off, and with it the fleeting respite from his overactive mind, which suddenly recalled several very specific memories involving his home, his mother, and- He focused on the professor’s kind face in an attempt to shut them out. “Thank you.”
“I’ll have the Floo activated in your room.” She gestured toward the door, signaling the end of the conversation. “And Draco,” she called as he exited the classroom, “I’d like to integrate more Reconciliation work into your probation.”
He stifled a cynical snort. She’d done something for him, after all; now he was required to pay for it. It was how the world worked. Greg was waiting in the corridor, leaning against the wall as he read from a textbook and looking for all the world like Atlas with his burden. He looked up with obvious relief. “Everything alright, then?”
Force of habit caused him to glance up and down the empty corridor before he tipped his head in the direction of their dormitory. “Not here.”
They walked in the silence of familiarity across the castle, Draco so immersed in his thoughts he didn’t realize someone had joined them until they arrived in the eighth year common room, and Greg’s voice broke through his musing. “. . . d’you mind?”
He looked up, slightly startled to find Longbottom in their company. “What was that?”
Greg’s beefy face was twisted in uncertainty. “It’s just, I need to get in my weekly hours for the Advanced Herbology project, and Neville’s on his way there now. D’you mind if I go with him?”
Yes, in fact, he did; he needed to talk things through with a friend before he Flooed his mother. So set had he been on it being Greg that he snapped, “For fuck’s sake, do as you like! You don’t answer to me.”
A few eighth years glanced up from various points around the large room. Greg flinched. There’d been a defining moment in their friendship, years ago, in which Greg had surrendered his will and Draco had taken control, but he didn’t like to think of it. What it came down to was this: that Greg would follow where he led without question, and not only would he trust his life in Draco’s hands but lay it at his feet as well. The knowledge of such absolute submission – to him – had once given Draco a heady sense of power, but the feeling had long since morphed into a responsibility so heavy it weighed him down like a wet cloak.
He tried again. “Sorry. Just go, Greg; it’s fine.” Then, to prove that statement true, he turned toward the boys’ dormitory. “See you two later.” He was halfway up the stairs when the door swung shut behind them and almost to the landing when a familiar voice called his name. He looked over his shoulder to see Daphne standing below, beckoning him back down.
When he was at her side, she asked quietly, “Are you alright?”
She studied him intently. “Susan?”
He nodded, grateful for the one person in his life capable of extrapolating volumes from a single word or gesture.
She smiled, apparently pleased with what she’d seen. “I like her.”
“She’s alright,” he admitted. “But there’s something else. I’m-” He paused, the next word sticking in his throat.
“What?” she prodded, leaning in closer and holding his gaze. “Are you in trouble?”
He glanced around the common room and, when he was certain no one was eavesdropping, whispered his impossible news.
Daphne’s reaction was as close to ecstatic as he’d ever seen her; she took his hands in hers and gave them a gentle squeeze. “Congratulations,” she breathed. She released her grip and stepped back, mouth twisting into a pensive frown. “Go Floo your mother.”
The entire exchange had taken less than less than half a minute, and yet everything had been communicated; such was the power behind the imperturbable façade of Daphne Greengrass, and she shared it willingly with the fortunate few she considered her friends. He took a deep breath and nodded, and they went their separate ways.
As Professor Hipthripple had promised, the Floo in the room he shared with Terry Boot was active. He sank down in front of it with a handful of Floo powder and paused as he always did before calling his mother, willing his emotions into whatever semblance of order he could manage.
She was kneeling before the hearth in the library when he flamed into view. She drew back in surprise and pressed a hand to her chest. “Draco!”
“Mother.” He swallowed down a lump in his throat. Did she look well? Aside from infrequent Floo conversations, he hadn’t seen her since September, when she’d kissed his cheek on the train platform and told him to leave the past behind. With her. She hadn’t needed to explain what she meant by that.
She smiled at him, and the warm glow in her eyes had nothing to do with the light of the Floo. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a call from my favorite son?”
“Do I need a reason to call my mother?” He attempted to look affronted and failed miserably.
“Let me guess,” she said playfully. “You need pocket money.”
There was something wonderful and ordinary about their banter, and it lifted his spirits. “Yes, Mother,” he deadpanned. “I’ve spent it all at Honeydukes. I couldn’t help myself.”
She gave a quiet, happy laugh. “Just so long as you use a cleaning charm on your teeth twice a day, you may spend however much you like at that place.”
“I don’t actually-”
“Hush! Let me have my fun.” She smoothed her skirts, drawing his attention to a stack of parchment half-hidden by the voluminous fabric.
He noticed a smudge of soot on her hand and was instantly curious. “What are those papers? Are you burning something?”
She stilled the movement and gave a dismissive wave of her other hand. “Just scraps to start a fire.”
He decided her face was paler than it had been moments ago. “Are you well?”
“Of course, my darling.” She gave him a stern look. “Do you plan to tell me your news at some point, or would you prefer to procrastinate a bit longer?”
The allusion to his graduation deflated his mood, and as he formulated his answer he looked around the familiar room. It looked brighter, although that could be explained simply by the relaxed set of his mother’s shoulders. “It looks different somehow.”
She leaned toward him, eyes shining with an indecipherable emotion. “I opened the draperies.”
The simple statement caused his heart to squeeze again, and this one was far more painful than the one he’d experienced earlier. As unimaginable as daylight in the library would have been mere months ago, it was the look in his mother’s eyes that was even more so now that he recognized it: hope. And now he was going to crush it. “Mother, I-”
“I’ve made other changes, too,” she interrupted. “You won’t believe it! And by the time you come home-” She broke off suddenly as if she’d caught a glimpse of the angst behind his smile.
He watched as that hopeful glimmer was replaced almost immediately by dignified resignation, and the knowledge that he was the cause of that expression was worse than physical pain. “Mother.”
She answered far too swiftly. “I understand.” Then she added in a reassuring tone, “I do understand, and I won’t pressure you again.
His head told him she really did understand, but his heart decried him for the coward he was. Not going home meant avoiding the lingering presence of- of things he wanted to forget; it also meant leaving his mother to finish her house arrest in the same solitary state in which she’d started it. He couldn’t meet her eyes, and so he focused on her tightly clasped hands.
The word was imbued with such love it gave him the courage to vow, “I will come home; I promise. I just need more time.”
She seemed intent on returning to their previous light mood. “Well, then; tell me where you plan to stay in the meantime, young man. I may not be able to visit, but I can Floo-call and send money for sweets.”
He gave her a grateful smile as he thought quickly. That was the part he’d wanted to hash over with Greg first. “I’m not sure yet,” he finally admitted, “but I’ll start by asking the headmistress if I can board here. It shouldn’t be a problem since my probation will be over before the fall term.”
“I forbid it.” She wagged a finger and gave a mock scowl. “It’s a mother’s right to house her child; I’ll speak to her myself.”
He wished he could reach through and unclasp her hands, which were white-knuckled despite her teasing manner. Instead he did as he should have done for Susan, who had shown the same benevolence in the face of his weakness. “Thank you.”
“I’ll find a way, Draco,” she promised. “You won’t have to come home until you’re ready.”