Happy Sheltering in Place, peeps! Any of you other introverts feeling like we’re winning this one for the global team?

JKR owns the HP universe; we’re merely travelers in her space.

The divine CoquetteKitten is my alpha-beta-gamma-theta as always. She also keeps my virtual G&T topped up and garnished with castelvetrano olives. Thank you , daaahling!

Malfoy Manor

Unplottable Location

Wiltshire

The Cotswolds

Saturday morning Narcissa put on grey silk robes befitting her widowed status and dressed her hair in the same way she’d done every morning since her wedding day, pausing to study her reflection in the dressing room mirror. Nineteen years, always the same elegant coiffure – and all because he commanded it. She raised a rebellious hand and tugged loose a lock of hair, smiling in satisfaction as it fell in asymmetry over her ear.

She arrived early for the probation meeting to find Draco pacing before the gargoyle guarding the headmistress’s office, his fists jammed into the pockets of his trousers. He stopped abruptly when he caught sight of her. “Mother!”

For a few brief minutes she forgot everything but this long-awaited reunion; she clutched him almost fiercely, remarking in wobbly tones about how much he’d grown and how well he looked. And he did look well – he was still more boy than man in many ways, and yet he’d gained a healthy amount of weight and there were no longer shadows ringing his eyes. She told him as much as she pushed back his untidy hair and straightened his tie, and he laughed and pretended to be embarrassed by her attention.

“Honestly!” he protested. “I’m not a little boy anymore.” But he leaned into her ministrations with a delight that matched her own.

In the privacy of the moment she let down her customary reserve and beamed up at him. “Nonsense; you’ll always be my boy.”

Just then he noticed the loose lock of hair hanging over her ear. “Are you sure you’re my mother?” He smirked impishly, eyes crinkled with happiness.

“I-”

The echo of footsteps rounding the nearest corner caused them both to step back and school their features into neutrality. It was the headmistress. “Pleasant day to you, Mrs. Malfoy.” She nodded at Draco and gestured toward the gargoyle. “Shall we go up?”

No sooner had she spoken the password than more footsteps rang out, and the Ministry-appointed probation officer arrived in a swirl of smart robes. He was young – not much older than Draco – and looked familiar; Narcissa was quite sure she heard the headmistress swear under her breath.

“Good morning, Headmistress.” He gave a stiff, shallow bow and glanced at the Malfoys.

The headmistress gave a crotchety humph and turned toward the stairs.

Draco’s reaction was subtle and immediate. First his expression registered shock; then his shoulders sagged slightly, his eyes flicked downward for a few seconds, and his hands curled back into fists.

Distracted by the change in her son, Narcissa followed the others up into the headmistress’s office to where a long table with five chairs had been set up; she and Draco sat in the only two that were side by side.

The probation officer took the chair at one end of the table without another word and began shuffling his parchments into efficient piles. The headmistress sat at the other end and waved toward the remaining chair. “Professor Hipthripple should-”

As if on cue a witch sailed into the room with an armload of parchment, inkpots, and quills. “Here I am!” She deposited it on the table and sat in the remaining chair – the one facing the Malfoys.

But Narcissa barely noticed, because the probation officer began speaking even before Professor Hipthripple had sat down. Eyes fixed on his work he said, “The purpose of this meeting is to review the conditions and terms of the probation for Draco Lucius Malfoy and to determine their efficacy for the remainder of its duration.” He cleared his throat and looked up at the headmistress.

She frowned at him and didn’t answer.

Professor Hipthripple broke the odd silence. “I know you boys were at school together for a few years, but let’s begin with introductions.” She was remarkable only for her plainness, the kind of woman easily overlooked in a crowd and quickly forgotten afterward, until she spoke. Her voice was extraordinary; it was as thick and sweet and slow as sun-warmed honey, and it matched the glow in her dark eyes. “I’m Hestia Hipthripple, liaison for the Department of Post-War Studies and professor here at Hogwarts. My purpose at this meeting is to speak on behalf of Draco as well as represent Reconciliation.” She smiled across the table at the Malfoys and then the probation officer.

Nerves jangling, Narcissa stretched her mouth in what she hoped would pass for a polite smile and returned to her study of the probation officer. Where had she seen him before? She was jolted from her musing by the voice of the headmistress.

“Minerva McGonagall, Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and professor of Transfigurations, as you’re each aware.” The headmistress peered over the rims of her spectacles at each person present. “My purpose here is to make sure everybody behaves.” She looked at Narcissa expectantly.

It appeared to be her turn. “I’m Draco’s mother, Narcissa Malfoy.”

The probation officer shuffled his papers again, and there was another small stretch of odd silence. She nudged Draco, who appeared calm save that his hands were clenched into white-knuckled fists on his lap. He bobbed his head and said quietly, “I’m Draco Malfoy; you all know why I’m here.”

Those who’d already spoken turned to the probation officer, who raised a hand to smooth down his wiry red hair. Again Narcissa was struck by a sense of recognition, but of what she couldn’t quite recall . . . Red hair, that familiar chin, the self-important set of his shoulders – suddenly the pieces snapped together, and before he even said it, Narcissa knew. He was-

“I’m Percy Weasley, official supervisor of this probation beginning today,” he announced in a rather pompous manner. “I represent the Ministry for Magic in its capacity to serve justice to all former DeathEaters.”

“Thank you, Mr. Weasley,” said the headmistress. “I assume the paperwork is in order?” At his nod she made an impatient gesture with her hand. “Then stop dithering and pass out the copies!”

The meeting began with a reading of the official document, which Narcissa had poured over for the past year and long since memorized. In a nutshell, Draco would remain under the supervision of the Ministry; his wand was subject to routine inspection; his movements were restricted to a specific, pre-approvede area around his place of residence; and his interactions with other former DeathEaters were restricted to pre-approved and strictly public events. On the last day of August, barring any violation of these rules, he was to be released from probation at a final private hearing.

Since she had no need to pay close attention, she used the time to study the faces of the others. Draco kept his eyes on his copy of the document, face clear of emotion save for a minute tic in his cheek as he clenched his jaw in a rapid rhythm. The headmistress watched the probation officer with the same no-nonsense expression Narcissa remembered only too well from her own days at Hogwarts. Professor Hipthripple alone seemed unaffected; she smiled to herself as she scribbled some notes on a piece of parchment.

When Percy Weasley had finished reading aloud, he looked around the table. “Are there any questions?” For the span of several seconds it seemed there weren’t. “Well, then. I’ve been apprised of certain modifications to this probation that, in my opinion as official representative of the Ministry for Magic, require careful attention. Therefore I have written a series of addendums.”

For the first time since the meeting had begun Draco raised his head, eyes betraying his panic for a brief second, and then whatever semblance of order had prevailed at the table unraveled quickly.

“Oh, for Godric’s sake,” The headmistress growled.

Professor Hipthripple glanced up from her note-taking. “How unusual! Has the protocol for probation hearings changed in the past few days?”

“Don’t let’s get him started,” muttered the headmistress.

But Professor Hipthripple persisted, turning to Draco and then Narcissa. “Have there been previous alterations to this probation?”

Percy Weasley glanced around the table; when he got to the Malfoys, he raised his chin until he was looking down his nose at them. “I have the power to do so as an officer of probation.” He shuffled the order of his parchments and tapped them into a neat stack again. “Addendum number one,” he read, “the Ministry will conduct a series of unannounced visits throughout the remainder of the sentence.”

Narcissa looked to Draco, who responded with one sharp nod of his head, eyes fixed downward.

The headmistress, however, made a sound that was suspiciously close to a snort. “For what purpose – to make certain Mr. Malfoy has made his bed?”

He looked offended. “I’m sure we’re all aware of the risk to this host family in housing a former DeathEater, Headmistress. This is to ensure their personal safe-”

“Mr. Weasley,” interjected Professor Hipthripple. She was no longer smiling. “As an officer of probation, your job is to ensure a successful reintegration into society, not ostracize the probationer through insinuations. Such a course of action would be counterproductive to the progress Draco’s made.”

The headmistress wasn’t done. “Draco came back to Hogwarts of his own volition, Mr. Weasley. He’s been a model student and he’s passed the Reconciliation course, as all your official documents can verify. I have personally vouched for him. Are you implying I’m no longer able to discern the motives of a student of mine?”

Percy Weasley flushed but continued, “Addendum number two: the Ministry reserves the right to revoke any and all privileges without explanation.”

There was a sharp intake of breath beside her, but Narcissa refused to react. He wanted a reaction – wanted to see them acknowledge their powerlessness. And so she rebelled as she had to every man who’d forced her into such a position – she stared at Percy Weasley blankly, willing him to see her apathy to his posturing.

The headmistress muttered something under her breath and glared at him. “Have you so quickly forgotten the price of hubris, Mr. Weasley?”

Draco’s jaw had stopped its incessant flexing; he didn’t appear to be breathing at all.

“The Department of Post-War Studies does not sanction these policies, Mr. Weasley.” Professor Hipthripple’s voice was dramatically cooler than it had been previously. “Expect to hear from your department head.”

He didn’t make eye contact with anyone now, but he didn’t back down. “The final addendum addresses the cost of time for any unscheduled visits,” Percy Weasley pressed on as if he hadn’t heard the professor’s warning. “It states that an extra hour and thirty minutes shall be added to the length of the probation for each visit I or any other officer makes over the next three months.”

“I’m actually a bit disappointed with that one,” scoffed the headmistress.

“Of course, you may contest any or all of these,” he said. “Official forms are available through the Ministry and must be filed in triplicate no later than noon today in order to avoid violation of the terms.”

Narcissa thought quickly. A lifetime of submission may have silenced her tongue, but it had done little to dull her mind – and she’d been a quick study at school. Had she not spent the last six months reading every legal parchment pertaining to her late husband’s accounts? Addendums were tricky things. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view, very few people seemed to understand them.

Her heart was pounding as she found what she sought at the very bottom of the form: an small, insignificant-looking stamp. Would anyone else see it and point it out? She glanced at the other two witches at the table.

Professor Hipthripple was watching her. “Mrs. Malfoy, you and Draco are required to re-sign this document at the end of the meeting, therefore I encourage you to negotiate any and all suggested changes. Is there anything you’d like to say? Anything you’d like to contest?” As she emphasized the words, she looked almost excited.

In thirty-seven years no one had ever asked, much less encouraged, her opinion of anything beyond the cut of a set of robes. Narcissa tried to swallow.

“Draco, what is your opinion of these addendums?” Professor Hipthripple added, looking over at him with a kind smile. “What would you like to say to Mr. Weasley?”

Two things happened simultaneously. First, Draco turned a sickly shade of green. Second, Narcissa was consumed by a cold fury. No one would put her son in this position ever – ever – again. She turned to the would-be tyrant at the end of the table. “Yes.”

Percy Weasley, whose eyes were on his parchments, must have mistaken the softness of her tone for defeat, because he tapped the edges of his parchments into place with a superior smile. “Excellent. If you’ll just sign here and here and here and here,” he said as he held them up and pointed to various lines, “it will all be official.”

“You misunderstand me, Mr. Weasley,” she said, her anger making it possible to speak out at long last. “What I mean is, ‘Yes’, I would like to contest these addendums.”

Finally he made eye contact with her. “I beg your pardon?”

A small jolt of electricity shot down her spine, sending goose-bumps along her skin and a tingling sensation to her hands. “I’m familiar with this class of magical document. Nothing added without the signed consent of the prime signatory is in any way binding; in this case that would be,” here she looked down, unable to maintain steady eye contact with him any longer, “the Minister for Magic himself.”

Unless they signed off on those addendums. Left as it was, the document held no power beyond its original wording. Narcissa wondered if Percy Weasley had actually tried to trick them, or if he’d simply blundered onto the opportunity in his quest for power. In the end she decided on the latter; he was ambitious and full of himself, but he didn’t strike her as cunning. She, on the other hand, was, and now Draco was safe from his petty intimidations.

“The Minister supports the role of the probation officer fully,” he countered. “I’ve sent him my request and expect to hear from him by Monday morning at the latest.”

Mindful of the distinct possibility that anything she said would be held against Draco, Narcissa simply answered, “We understand.”

She sensed Draco looking at her and wondered what he was thinking. First her hair, then this – perhaps he’d been right earlier; perhaps she was someone else today. He shifted just then, sliding one foot until the side of his shoe bumped gently against hers.

“Pity you weren’t here earlier,” offered the headmistress in a smug tone. “I met with the Minister over breakfast to review graduation-day transitions of the eighth years still on probation. You could have asked him then.”

Professor Hipthripple cleared her throat loudly. “In light of this information, the document stands in its unamended form and, since there’s been no issue with it to this point, is acceptable.” She looked at both Narcissa and Draco. “Do you agree?”

They did. The addendums were stricken from the document, and they signed their names, Draco as probationer and Narcissa as parent. Professor Hipthripple signed in her official capacity, and the headmistress as witness to it all. Percy Weasley signed last of all after scrupulously comparing everybody’s signatures against those on file, managing to look affronted the entire time.

Finally he pushed back his chair and stood. “Since there is no further business to discuss,” here he gathered his parchments and looked around the table, avoiding the Malfoys entirely, “This meeting is adjourned. Good day.”

The headmistress rolled her eyes as the door closed behind him. “Pompous upstart.” She turned to Professor Hipthripple. “He was the most annoying prefect in the history of Hogwarts. Wrote up more disciplinary notes than the entire staff combined.”

“I’m not surprised,” mused the professor. “Ambition, delusions of grandeur . . .” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “You know, he reminds me of a young Cornelius Fudge.”

The headmistress snorted. Then she turned to Draco. “And you!”

He started. “Ma’am?”

You could learn a thing or two from your mother.” She sent an approving glance toward Narcissa.

Draco looked between the two witches, and whatever passed through his head must have been frightening because his eyes widened considerably. “Yes, ma’am.”

Professor Hipthripple stood and extended her hand across the table, first to Draco and then to Narcissa. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Malfoy. Your knowledge of magical documents is impressive.”

The adrenaline rush was wearing off; Narcissa suddenly felt tired.

Draco was looking down at her with concern. “Are you well, Mother?” He leaned in and studied her face, his own set in a frown.

“I am, darling boy,” she assured him in a voice meant only for his ears.

“What we need is tea and biscuits,” declared Professor Hipthripple, who had tactfully busied herself with her stack of parchment during the short exchange. “Minerva, would you mind?”

It seemed the headmistress didn’t, because she called for a House Elf at once. Meanwhile, Professor Hipthripple Transfigured the long table into a small round one and instructed Draco to rearrange the chairs, and when the transformation was complete she said to him, “And now, if you don’t mind, we have a few things to discuss with your mother.” She waved her hands and beamed at him. “Shoo!”

Draco wavered, eyes flickering from her to Narcissa and back again.

Professor Hipthripple tried again. “I’m sure your friends are waiting to hear all about your meeting.”

Narcissa nodded in agreement. Clearly there was something that needed to be said outside of his presence, and in any case she’d had to have left after the meeting per the terms of her house arrest. “Do as you’ve been told, Draco.”

He leaned in close once more, and when he spoke he seemed to be assuring himself as much as her. “I’ll see you in just a few hours.” He pushed back his chair and stood, tipping his head respectfully to each witch in turn before he left.

When the office door had closed behind him, Professor Hipthripple spoke again, her thick, sweet voice a balm for the almost physical ache caused by his departure. “Mrs. Malfoy,” she said, “are you quite set on returning to the manor until the ceremony? I was hoping you’d consider staying here as my guest instead.”

Narcissa hesitated, torn between pride and desire. Did she want to go back to the manor? That was a silly question. But would she admit that? She searched the professor’s face for ulterior motive; in the end all she could find was an optimistic sort of decency.

“It’s your choice, of course,” said the professor. “But we have details of Draco’s host family! Minerva and I have been looking forward to telling you about them before we introduce you later today.”

A host family they’d found because of another choice Narcissa had made. Choices, she decided, were heady things and worth the price of a little pride. “I’d like that.”

 

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