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February 15th

Chapter Text

The lackluster tea sold by the shop at the Ministry wasn't sweetened by the pretty barista, or the handsome one either.

"Sorry excuse for two knuts," Blaise grumbled to himself, drinking at the scaldingly hot and watery beverage with caution.

Without a good drink or pleasant conversation to distract him, Blaise's eyes wandered lazily over the Atrium below. He was at least forty minutes early for his appointment, but he made a point at least once a week to restore his knowledge of the underbelly of the wizarding world.

Though many would argue the Ministry had improved in the last several years after the war and the 'proper sentencing' given to those that participated on the losing side, Blaise knew better. There were still underhanded dealings to exploit. At least once a day someone exchanged a suspicious package while on the lift or through the Atrium, if you knew what to look for.

Blaise knew exactly what to look for; the nervous adjustment of robes or carefully not making eye contact with anyone. There were still disreputable characters, and he'd had so much fun weeding them out as part of his Rehabilitation with a clerk in the Wizengamot, he intended to make a living out of it.

Checking his watch, he saw he had fifteen minutes to get to his appointment downstairs, which left him five minutes to finish his unpalatable breakfast. Scowling, he tried to take another sip, but almost spat it back out over the table when he discovered it'd gone tepid. On his way to the bin at the end of the cafe to recycle the paper container, a flash of red caught his eye; Auror robes always stood out, and he never understood why they needed to be so visible. The lot of them were obnoxious enough as it was.

With the remnants of Valentine's decorations hanging in the Ministry, a red streamer caught his eye rather than Auror robes, though there were several of them in the Atrium just before nine in the morning. Blaise checked his watch one more time before walking around the throngs of employees milling around like ants in an overturned nest.

The lifts were crowded, but since only one went down to the Wizengamot levels, his queue was shorter. Unless you were headed all the way down you were barred from that lift from eight in the morning until six in the evening.

"Right on time, as always."

Blaise grinned and turned. "A gentleman is never late."

Parvati Patil scoffed. "You are hardly a gentleman, Blaise Zabini."

"I do hope I proved so last night," he said, relishing in the girl's blush. "My valentine may still be recovering from the other day, by the looks of it. I haven't seen her around yet."

"Ugh, please shut up. You'll make me vomit with your vulgar displays of heterosexual debauchery, even more disgusting than the decorations still up around this place. Really, Valentine's was three days ago."

Blaise laughed and checked Parvati's chin with his fist, holding out his arms to carry some of her paperwork. "Always a treat, Patil."

"I can't say the same for you," Parvati sniffed, giving Blaise over three quarters of the items in her hand, the lift creaking to a halt in front of them. The last two in line, they had the elevator to themselves on the way down to the lowest levels of the Ministry, where the Department of Mysteries and Wizengamot clerk offices were tucked away from the rest.

Their playful banter continued back and forth until the two reached the corridor filled with office doors nearly flush together, betraying how cramped the spaces within truly were. Blaise left Parvati after attempting to give her a peck on the cheek while passing over the paperwork he was carrying, but she managed to dodge him, laughing and scurrying to open her office and disappear inside. He went four more doors down, still smiling from the exchange, and knocked on the one marked with a golden plate of Percy Weasley, Head Clerk, which was slightly ajar.

"Come in, Mr Zabini," came the crisp welcome.

Percy looked up to acknowledge his appointment with a smile, before returning to his task of rustling through a ceiling-high cabinet. He tapped his heels to float back down to the floor and walk to his desk, a slim blue folder in his hand, and welcomed Blaise to sit down.

"Thank you for coming in on short notice," Percy began. "I won't waste too much of your time this morning, the letter should have explained your presence for the witness of a signature. I trust you had a good weekend?"

A slow smile eased over Blaise's face, but he didn't push Percy's buttons the same way he did with Parvati; he figured he owed the man for his early release of the Program. "I had a very satisfactory weekend, thank you for asking, Mr Weasley. Yours?"

Percy's high cheekbones colored slightly, and his eyes sharpened with humor. "My weekend was blessedly quiet, as I stayed home with a glass of red wine and a riveting thesis. I immensely enjoyed - ah, Mr Malfoy, thank you for joining us."

Blaise turned to face the door as Percy stood to greet his guest. While he was expecting Lucius Malfoy, based on the formal tone and greeting Percy supplied, he was surprised to see Draco standing in the doorway.

"Blaise?"

"Draco?" Blaise stood to embrace his long time friend, whom he hadn't seen for weeks. The scratchy wool of formal robes itched at his face during the embrace, and the physical memory of a similar embrace years ago caused the realization to dawn on him that Draco hadn't worn these robes since his trials just after the war.

"Now that we're all here, do sit down gentlemen so we can begin."

"He's the witness?"

"Don't be rude, Draco," Blaise chastised, patting the chair next to his. "Percy asked me in as a favor today."

Scowling as he thought on it, Draco conceded and sat down. "Not a word of this to Pansy, she'll be quite put out for the missed opportunity."

"Pans is probably still in the Lovegood girl's bed in some foreign state; she has more pressing concerns on her mind."

Percy cleared his throat pointedly to regain control of the meeting, raising an eyebrow at Blaise's suggestion. Both men nodded, Blaise still smirking and Draco rolling his eyes, and turned to face the Head Clerk with interest.

Throughout the formal proceedings, Percy read a long list of duties now expected of Draco as a fully rehabilitated member of wix society, and Draco agreed to uphold each to the best of his ability. A bitter and metallic taste was on his tongue throughout, but he could see the comradely sighs of annoyance Percy released on his behalf after several of the more redundant ones, but pressed on to be free of the invisible manacles of relative indentured servitude.

"Finally, Draco Lucius Malfoy, do you have any final questions before you are officially released from the Death Eater Rehabilitation Program?"

Draco's lips popped with a sharp release of breath, and his "No," was as emphatic as could be.

"So shall it be. Blaise Tamir Zabini, please confirm through your signature that you have witnessed these proceedings and they were completed with true intentions."

"Sure you still want Pans?" Blaise asked, winking before he signed the document with finality.

Draco grinned slightly, his hands shaking from excitement as he watched the document glow around the name momentarily, taking the quill from Blaise's outstretched hand. "She'd make me do something ridiculous as repayment."

The scratch of the quill was the only sound in the office as he signed and they held their breath, waiting for the official charmed document to accept the signature. Once the white light faded, and both names remained after passing muster, each man relaxed visibly.

"I promised you a quick meeting," Percy said, regaining his professional demeanor. "Mr Zabini and Mr Malfoy, the document will be placed on both of your permanent record. You are free, truly free to go. And Mr Malfoy, please confirm with your coordinator on the future of your position."

"Done, thank you, Percy." A glance at Draco confirmed he was floating on cloud nine, slumped back in the office chair with a dazed and pleased look on his face.

The walk to the lift was more chaotic as the court dates and appointments flew by, but everyone skirted the two imposing men, striding with purpose towards the queue back up.

"Thank you," Draco whispered, quiet enough the wizard snatching interdepartmental memos from the air to make extra notes couldn't overhear.

One hand resting on his friend's elbows beneath the folds of robes, blocked from the view of passerby, Blaise squeezed once. "You're getting too sentimental."

"Piss off. Sentimental enough for you?"

"Quite." Entering the lift, still surrounded by random Ministry workers, Blaise carefully chose his next question. "Seems a bit early for the meeting, don't you think?"

Draco glanced at him, a trace of venom in his glare, but he understood. "Special circumstances."

"Not a golden opportunity, then?"

"Without the right access, those opportunities weren't...afforded me until recently."

Blaise nodded, biting his lip from asking just what sort of special circumstances, barring the use of gold, Draco used to be released early from his rehabilitation. The two wizards were the only ones left as they reached the level below the Atrium, only a two minute lift ride left to go, and he turned to take his chance, when a hand shot out to stop the lift doors from closing.

"Sorry, mates, I need to get this up to...Zabini. Malfoy."

Mouth still open in preparation to properly interrogate Draco, Blaise coughed out, "Potter."

Several silent moments passed as Blaise waited for Draco to greet the Auror as well, and he turned to chastise his friend for blatant rudeness, when his mind went into rapid-fire.

"This is my stop actually," he said smoothly, slipping on his most charming smile. "I've come to see someone in Magical Games and Sports about leprechaun gold. Got to be proactive, only a month until St. Patrick's Day, you understand."

Blaise tipped his head to the two still silent men, sweeping around Harry to exit the lift, slyly hitting the button that would override their trip to go a few levels down before going back up. The look his friend gave the broad shouldered Auror told him everything he needed to know about the sudden expedited length of his sentence. The heat from their cheeks would melt an iceberg in no time flat.

Yes, Blaise knew exactly what to look for when he was at the Ministry.