The Cotswolds, Wiltshire
The moment the Floo connection with Draco had been cut, Narcissa had begun making a list of friends and acquaintances who might help them. Now, several weeks later, she was no further along than she’d been when she’d promised him her help. She stared down at the crumpled piece of vellum she’d worked on every day since — at the names she’d written only to cross out one by one as the reality of her circumstances became yet bleaker. The problem was that over half of her acquaintances were either dead or imprisoned, and it was unlikely the remaining few would be able or willing to assist. As for friends, she hadn’t had any since leaving school.
She pocketed the list with a sigh.
Martha Goyle would have gathered Draco into her massive arms without a thought to her own welfare, but she’d been dead two years, felled by Voldemort as a warning to any other mothers who dared try to keep their sons from taking the Mark. The Fawleys had already left for their summer home in Saluzzo. The Greengrass family might consider taking Draco in – he and Daphne were close, after all. Then again, they’d probably be concerned about the impact of such an association on their business; if one was a former Death Eater, one did not hobnob with those who’d switched allegiance in the eleventh hour.
There was her sister, but they’d been estranged over twenty years; there was her cousin, but he’d probably rather kill both her and Draco on sight . . . Narcissa sighed again. That left only official channels.
She decided to start with someone she knew would take her call, and so she Flooed the headmistress of her son’s school.
Minerva McGonagall was seated at her desk and speaking with someone just out of sight of the fireplace. “ . . . an entire week to complete! I was beginning to think you’d changed your-” She glanced toward the fireplace with a look of impatience. “Oh, for heaven’s sake! What is it now?” she snapped, and then, seeing who it was, added, in a slightly more formal tone, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Malfoy; I thought you were-” she waved her hand. “I’m just finishing with a student before rushing off to the next potential catastrophe. What can I do for you in less than five minutes?” She turned her attention back to the students. “You may consider your application accepted, Mr. Goyle. Now go scrub quickly –that’s far too much potting soil for the Great Hall!”
Narcissa realized it must be nearly dinner time. “Please forgive my intrusion; I’ll Floo back later.”
There was the sound of retreating footsteps and a heavy door closing, and then the headmistress returned her attention to the fireplace. “Nonsense. Let’s just skip over the preliminaries, shall we? I assume you need something; what is it?”
She faltered for a moment without the crutch of formality until she remembered Draco’s need. “It’s graduation,” she managed finally.
“If you’re worried it will be contested, I can assure you everything is very much in order. He may leave Hogwarts any time after his probation hearing, which is scheduled for that morning, although our hope is that he’ll participate in the-”
Abandoning etiquette for the sake of expediency, Narcissa interrupted. “Draco has asked for an alternative place in which to finish his probation; I promised him I’d find one.”
“It’s been nine months since you last saw each other,” the headmistress protested. “Surely he’d prefer to spend the summer with you.”
It was less about with whom he wanted to spend the summer than it was about where and without whom, Narcissa wanted to explain, although in this case the two were intrinsically bound. However, some things were best left unspoken. “It’s a mere three months, Headmistress; after that we’ll both be free to go where we choose.” She gave an involuntary glance over her shoulder.
When she turned back, the headmistress’s usual direct gaze had narrowed to hawk-like scrutiny. “If this has to do with-”
“Are you able to assist us in this?” Narcissa interrupted once more, staring back levelly.
Unfortunately the headmistress seemed intent on her argument. “Draco has made great progress this year, but Professor Hipthripple maintains that he must face-”
No, no, no! She’d sell her soul to the next up-and-coming Dark Lord before she made her child do that. “Please,” she interjected, unable to keep a note of urgency from her voice.
The headmistress was still peering at her intently, but the lines of her face were suddenly and significantly softened. “There will be no coercion of anyone under my care, Narcissa. If you’re both certain this is what you want, then you may choose other accommodations.”
“Then he’ll stay at Hogwarts,” she stated in as firm as tone as she could manage in the moment.
“We have opened the school to a limited number of students for the summer — specifically, those accepted into an unprecedented work-study program.” The headmistress frowned. “Unfortunately, there are no more beds available.”
Narcissa’s heart, which had been racing just seconds before, stuttered and seemed to drop into her stomach. And then, realizing she was already in a position to beg – she was, after all, on her knees before a person of influence – she prepared to abandon the vestiges of her tattered pride.
But it seemed the headmistress wasn’t done. She continued, “I will, however, find him one, and I’ll make sure it’s a safe place.”
Time dilated, the seconds elongating as Narcissa’s brain processed that statement from every possible angle. A bed at Hogwarts had seemed a foregone conclusion, something requiring little to no exertion of influence on the headmistress’s part. A bed someplace else – and someplace guaranteed to be safe – was another matter altogether; it spoke of effort and, therefore, indebtedness. Would she never escape the machinations of those in power? And yet it was for Draco, for whom she’d lived and breathed since the first fluttering proof of his existence within her. “If you’ll do this,” she pledged, “I’ll do anything.”
The headmistress sighed heavily. “I don’t think you’ve fully grasped the implications of your actions in the Forbidden Forest last May.” She took off her spectacles and rubbed her eyes. “You might never attain popularity with the public, but you’ve earned the acceptance of a select few. Not only are we in positions uniquely suited to help you, but our assistance comes without strings attached.”
Narcissa barely restrained a cynical laugh. “Experience dictates that ‘assistance’ is always conditional, Headmistress,” she countered, “and I always honor my obligations.”
From deep in the castle the dinner gong sounded. The headmistress stood abruptly. “I’ll be happy to argue my point when I’m not needed to supervise a horde of hungry pubescents. Until then, good night. I’ll see you at Draco’s probation meeting.” And with that, the green glow of the Floo connection died.
Narcissa was gathering her skirts in preparation to stand when a low, dangerously lazy drawl from the other side of the library caused her to freeze in place. “Whatever are you plotting behind my back, wife?”
She gave a thick swallow but said nothing, aware that in the growing dusk he could see nothing beyond a few feet in front of the frame he currently occupied. If she waited long enough, he’d move on in search of her, and then she’d be free to creep through the back corridors to her room.
“I’ll discover your secret,” he added in the velvet tone that had left her weak-kneed as a schoolgirl. “I always do.”
Now it sent a shudder of fear and loathing through her entire body. She said nothing, willing her breathing to be as silent as possible as she continued to kneel on the hearth long after her legs went numb with cold and cramp.
Time was when he’d be drunk into oblivion at this hour or, at least before their house arrest, out inflicting his favorite brands of fear and pain on someone else. But time had lost all meaning in this house, and Narcissa no longer paid it any heed.
The Old Vicarage
Ed was taking an awfully long time in the kitchen, Jeanne Granger finally decided. She glanced from the empty wine glass beside her, avoiding the vacant armchair to her left, to the bar across the long narrow drawing room where a particularly excellent bottle of Cabernet sat uncorked and waiting. “What in God’s name are you doing?!” she bellowed in a distinct Mancunian accent.
Footsteps in the hall caused her to look up from her British Dental Journal once more. “I thought you’d decided to grow the damned grapes yourself,” she griped, and when her husband had set his tray on the low table in front of her and began to sit down beside her, she added, “Oh, no you don’t!” and gave her empty glass a meaningful shake.
Ed Granger grinned and walked the ten steps to the bar. “Yes, Highness.”
She looked over the tops of her reading glasses to study the small tray on the ottoman. Cheese, olives, nuts, grapes . . . “You forgot the savory crackers.”
He gave a deep, happy chuckle as he filled her glass. “Of course I did.”
“Bring more Gouda, too,” she said absently, returning to her article.
He’d made it three meters down the hall when she yelled, “And let Badger in before he starts barking!”
He returned presently with a good-sized woolly dog at his heels, and after depositing the requested items on the ottoman, he flopped down beside her on the sofa with an exaggerated groan. “Woman, you’re an insufferable tyrant.”
She grinned. “Would you have me any other way?”
“Absolutely not.” Ed reached for the wine bottle, pushing Badger’s nose away from the tray of food with a stockinged foot. “No, Badgie. Not for you.”
The dog plopped down at their feet and whined.
And so they spent that June evening as they had so many others since Hermione left for school that first time years ago, enjoying each other’s quiet company and the antics of the dog. This particular evening, however, was different. Despite the cozy room and the comforting rumble of Ed’s voice as Jeanne leaned against his shoulder, the atmosphere was charged with anticipation and, even deeper beneath that, things she would never have admitted to another soul: dark things, like fear and futility. Things she’d sworn would never have a place in this house or any other she inhabited.
But Ed – solid, unshakeable Ed – rumbled on and rubbed his fingers along her arm, and she fed on his strength without shame. Every so often she glanced toward the fireplace, each time willing it to flare to life, but she kept up her part of their pleasant conversation, defying those dark things with every quip and comment.
Badger, too, was restless – although he was easily distracted. “Give the damned dog a biscuit before his feelings get hurt,” Jeanne ordered when he tried to insinuate his shaggy form onto her lap.
The dog whipped his head up at those words and gave a hopeful whuff.
Ed complied. “I’m a saint, you know,” he said to no one in particular.
“Yes, you are,” she laughed, stretching up to plant a resounding kiss on his mouth. “Edward, patron saint of tyrants, dogs, and the oppressed.”
They sat together in a long silence broken only by the occasional chink of the cheese knife on the plate and the munch of biscuits until the floor clock chimed the hour; then Jeanne made an odd, unconscious movement – she reached a hand down to her knee as if to touch something or someone – and the strange mood in that room shifted to such an uncomfortable place, she was struck by a compulsion to confront it.
“I miss her,” she said. “I keep seeing her out of the corner of my eye, sitting there on the floor by me. I can almost feel the weight of her head on my leg.”
Ed kissed his wife’s forehead. “We’ll see her soon, Jeannie.”
“I want her home soon,” she griped. “I want her here with us.”
He sighed. “We agreed it’s for her own good. She needs time.”
“If only she’d told us!” she argued. “There’s that brilliant psychotherapist at Wolfson! She could have-”
“What! Told him about the existence of magic and her part in the second wizarding war?” He leaned forward until he could look into her eyes. “We’ve been through this before, love, but on different sides of the argument. He’d lock her up on grounds of insanity.”
Jeanne glared at him. “On an intellectual level I respect your logic, but tonight my heart refutes it. I want our girl!” He was right, of course, damn him. Ed was invariably the one arguing for Hermione’s return to their safekeeping while she countered in the name of reason. Tonight, for the first time in ages, she found no comfort in the indisputable.
The corners of his mouth lifted into a smile, but his eyes belied a grief that mirrored her own. “She’ll be home in no time.”
Badger rose from his place at their feet to lay his head on Jeanne’s knee. He gave a soft whine and wagged his tail.
“As you’ve told me countless times, Jeannie,” Ed continued, holding her yet closer, “this is about Hermione, not us. She needs help, and she needs it from the wizarding world.”
“She protected us when it should have been the other way around,” she murmured into his collar. She stretched a hand to the dog and smoothed his shaggy hair from his eyes. “And now we need other people to care for her. It should be us.”
She was spared from any further admission of weakness, fortunately, because suddenly the fireplace flared with a familiar green flame, and Jeanne did what she knew best – she sprang into physical action. “Hermione!” she called, jumping to her feet. The sprig of grapes she’d been worrying between her fingers fell to the floor forgotten, and Badger snapped them up greedily.
It was Minerva McGonagall. “I’m afraid it’s just me,” she said kindly. “Good evening, Dr. and Dr. Granger.”
Jeanne was already across the room and sinking to her knees on the bare oak floorboards. “How was she today?”
If Jeanne Granger’s greeting – or lack thereof – was tinged with a familiarity that spoke of many such Floo calls, the headmistress’s response only confirmed it. “She’s fine; a bit sullen, but that’s to be expected.”
Ed joined Jeanne on the floor. “Sullen,” he echoed. He squeezed his eyes shut and made a small pained sound. “Oh, my girl,” he breathed.
“She still hasn’t Flooed us,” said Jeanne, exchanging a worried glance with Ed.
The headmistress shook her head. “She’s angry, but Professor Hipthripple maintains that’s an important step toward healing. I suggest you send an Owl; let her know you understand and look forward to seeing her in two weeks.”
“How soon can she come home for a visit after that?” asked Jeanne. “I don’t mean to push, but-”
Ed silenced her with a gentle murmur. “Jeannie.”
“I’m sorry.” She looked distinctly unrepentant, though.
“There’s no precedent for Hermione’s situation,” said the headmistress. “We’ve never had an eighth year class or Reconciliation at Hogwarts; there are no rules in place. Weekend visits or even an open Floo would be acceptable to me-”
Jeanne Granger said nothing, but she clutched Ed’s hand.
“-as long as she cooperates with Professor Hipthripple and works toward completing Reconciliation,” the headmistress finished in a stern tone.
“We’ll do whatever we can to encourage her,” said Ed. He looked at his wife, at her bright eyes and brave expression, and then back to the green glowing face in the fireplace. “We were thinking of getting Hermione a mobile phone; it’s a Muggle communication device. She’d be able to contact us any time without an Owl or Floo. Would that be acceptable to you?”
The headmistress looked intrigued. “That’s a very thoughtful idea. I cannot promise it will work at Hogwarts, but you’re more than welcome to try.”
The Grangers nodded in unison. “We’ll bring one when we come,” said Jeanne. “And if there’s anything we can do at any time, please let us know.”
An odd expression flashed across the headmistress’s face. “Actually,” she said, “there just might be something.”
“Anything,” repeated Ed. He was distracted momentarily by Badger, who was sniffing loudly at the tray on the ottoman behind them. “No, Badger. Go lie down.”
“Hermione isn’t the only student with a need to finish a program this summer. Earlier tonight I agreed to help find a host family for an eighth year student who needs a safe place for the next three months. Have you any interest in such a thing?”
Jeanne was taken aback. She glanced at Ed in confusion.
The headmistress’s choice of wording obviously intrigued him. “What do you mean by ‘safe place’?”
And so she bluntly described the young man’s troubled past, his escape from it after the war, and the temporary terms of his freedom.
“Draco Malfoy,” mused Ed. “I know that name; wasn’t he a bit of a bully?”
The headmistress made a sound that was suspiciously close to a snort. “You could say that.”
“Hermione had a rather low opinion of him, if I recall,” said Jeanne. “And she’s an excellent judge of character.”
“A great many of us disliked him, and for good reason,” agreed the headmistress, “but he’s worked very hard this past year, and he’s changed.” She hesitated before adding, “His father may have been a monster, but his mother saved Harry Potter’s life at great personal risk; she and Draco have been given a second chance. I’ve promised to do whatever I can to help.”
Jeanne chewed at the inside of her mouth. “Why can’t he go home? Surely his mother misses him.”
The headmistress frowned. She seemed to be weighing her words, because in the end all she said was, “Until he heals further, it isn’t a safe place for him.”
“We’ll do it.”
Jeanne swung her head in Ed’s direction, mouth agape. “Ed!”
“Jeannie, we might not be able to help Hermione right now the way we’d like, but we could help this boy.” He squeezed her hand. “We have room and the means to do it.”
The rest of their conversation was silent as the headmistress waited patiently amongst the Floo flames. Finally they turned to her. “We’ll need to discuss this further, if you don’t mind,” said Jeanne.
The headmistress gave an acquiescing nod, still managing to look slightly triumphant. “I understand. Why don’t we speak again tomorrow night?”
It seemed there was more to think about than say at that point; a few moments later Minerva McGonagall bid them good evening, and the Floo connection died in a sputter of green sparks.
Jeanne sighed. “You and your projects.”
“You have to admit, Jeannie, this is a humanitarian cause.” Ed’s eyes held a familiar gleam of excitement.
“What about your work?” she argued. “You won’t be able to leave your papers spread out all over the dining room any more – in fact, you might not be able to work here at all.”
“Well.” He had the grace to look guilty. “It’s about time I made use of that office; we both know I’m not really supposed to take patient records home.”
There was a short pause as they considered the truth of that statement, but Jeanne wasn’t quite done. “He’s not going to loaf around all summer,” she warned. “I’m going to hold him to the same standards to which I held our daughter; that means chores, family meals, and either study or gainful employment.”
“What do you think about having him work at the surgery? You need an extra hand at the reception desk right now.”
“Oh.” She looked intrigued by that idea.
A loud canine belch from behind them interrupted Ed; Badger stood by the very empty platter licking cheese and biscuits from his chops.
Jeanne made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a cry. “I certainly hope he likes dogs.”