Chapter: XVII. Redux
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Chapter Warnings: None
Chapter Length: 3900
Chapter Summary: Narcissa makes a re-connection, Draco finds himself in way over his head, and Harry makes a routine call at Cornwall House.
Beta: None. Read at your own risk.
Note: This is a CYOA fic styled after the 乙女ゲーム/Otome game genre. There will be a poll at the end of each chapter, and readers' majority vote will decide the POV character's actions for the following chapter.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
[Previously, Draco decided to get in touch with Coury and ask some questions about how Ginny had been doing, then decide what to do next based on what he learns.]
"Looks like I'm going to have to have a chat with Coury," Draco murmured, dropping Ginny's letter to his side.
"No," Narcissa said as she lowered the squirming Luce to the floor. "Let me do that."
"I do hope we catch him at home," Narcissa said, lifting the ornate crystal bowl she'd fetched from the cellar to her eyes and inspecting the dark purple powder inside. "It's mid-morning in Boston."
"I thought we weren't supposed to have any Far-Flung Floo Powder," Draco said. "What if the Aurors detect this?"
"They almost certainly will," Narcissa said, setting the bowl on top of the mantle. "And we are forbidden to purchase it. If we were forbidden to use what we already had, they'd have confiscated this when they swept the cellar."
Draco reckoned the Aurors had probably missed it, but his mother had the right of it: if the Malfoys weren't supposed to communicate via Far-Flung Floo, the Ministry should have done a better job of making sure they didn't have the means.
Narcissa picked up a pinch of the powder, then scooped up even more. "That ought to be enough for a good thirty minutes. Adalbert can be very circumspect."
"I didn't know you knew him that well," Draco said.
Coury was a very distant relative, though Draco wasn't sure from which side -- the joint family tree in the dining room did not mention any Courys at all. Perhaps the tapestry at the House of Black had them, but Draco had about as much chance of ever seeing that as he did getting away with riding a Hippogriff through the Ministry building, naked.
Narcissa smiled -- it was the same smile Draco remembered well, for it emerged every time Draco would ask so-called "adult questions" before being old enough to understand the answers. "Well enough," she said, tossing the powder into the fireplace. "United States relay station, Boston, Adalbert Coury."
The flames intensified briefly. "Far-Flung Floo Network connection in progress," a pleasant female voice informed. "Please stand by while we attempt to initiate contact with your party. Please note that the recipient will be notified of your identity prior to connection. Should the recipient be unavailable at the present time--"
A faint, glowing image of a bear-like man materialised in the fireplace. He wore Muggle clothes after the American fashion; his impressive whiskers and beard made him look a bit like Father Christmas. "Narcissa? Narcissa Black? Is that really you?"
"Narcissa Malfoy, if you will," she said, smiling faintly now. "It has been a very long time, Adalbert."
"My word, but you haven't aged a day! I had the honour of corresponding with your son not too long ago. Is he well?"
Draco made a move to rise from the armchair so he could greet the man, but she shot him such a look that he stopped. He hadn't realised she didn't want Coury to know Draco was in the room.
"Draco is well, thank you for asking. We have been most grateful for your assistance in our affairs. How have you been?"
"Come now, Narcissa, you do not really wish to ask after me, do you?"
"I see living in America has taught you a thing or two about getting down to business, as they say. However, I'm not quite sure what you mean."
"Word of your husband's passing at the hands of your barbaric new government has reached us even here, dear lady. I cannot think of any reason for you to contact us directly here except one."
Draco peered at Coury, who was still smiling pleasantly. Astonishingly, so was Narcissa -- despite the mention of Father's death, her face had not changed. It was like watching a pair of sibling wildcats cross paths in strange territory after years apart.
"So really," Coury continued, linking his hands atop his impressive belly, "I should just call for Flavia, should I not?"
"That won't be necessary, Adalbert," Narcissa said, her tone still airy. "My business is with you."
"If it's about making the necessary arrangements, we have discussed it, and--"
"My dear Adalbert, have you perchance grown less fond of your wife over the years?"
"Less fond of her?" Coury sounded genuinely pained. "Less fond of her? You grossly underestimate both my capacity for feeling and Flavia's--"
"Good," Narcissa said, cutting him off. "Then that isn't a conversation you wish to have at present, is it?"
Coury squinted through the flame-prism around him. "You really mean that, don't you? So your son's request for a favour had nothing to do with you?"
"Not a thing, my dear old friend."
Draco was lost. Who in the world was Flavia, and just what kind of conversation were these two really having? We must always study the background, Draco, his father's voice echoed in his mind, from that time Draco had thrown his History of Magic textbook at the wall and wailed that he didn't see why he needed to learn a bunch of stupid old dates. You cannot understand now without knowing what happened yesterday.
"I see," Coury said. "Then I'm even happier to see you than I originally thought. I shall grant any request, however large, should it be within my power to do so."
"Do I have your word?"
"My word of honour, Narcissa."
Draco hadn't even noticed how tightly wound Narcissa had been, but now that her posture slackened, she seemed to shrink a bit before his eyes.
"Good. I'd like a complete -- that is to say, unabridged -- understanding of your relationship with the Salem Strikers."
Coury's hands, still linked at his midsection, tightened. "Does this have to do with the young woman -- what was her name? Guinevere Ferrett?"
"Ginevra Weasley, Adalbert, and that does not answer my question."
"I will, but would you tell me who is she to you?"
"She is the woman my son means to wed."
Everything in Draco tightened. Having his mother say it like that made it so much more real than he'd imagined. So why did he suddenly have an overwhelming urge to interrupt the conversation and contradict his mother's words? He did mean to marry Ginny. Didn't he?
"Ah!" Coury moved his hands behind his back and began to pace. "Are you quite sure? My files on her indicate that she was marginally instrumental in that little scuffle your government had with the Dark Lord. Besides, she is from a blood traitor family, I believe?"
"Please, Adalbert, don't be crass. Miss Weasley comes from perfectly good stock, and our blood relation is optimally distant. Weren't you the one who changed your name and fled because you feared what inter-breeding was doing to the Old Blood?"
"Mmm. I must say I am glad you have begun to see things my way, Narcissa, even though it took twenty years."
"Twenty-two. But my dear friend, as much as I treasure the memories of the talks that we've had in the past, I have asked you a question and I mean to have an answer. After Miss Weasley's news debut a few weeks ago, he's quite anxious to make sure she will not suffer for his mistake in asking a relative for a simple favour."
"I have obviously misjudged the situation during our correspondence, Narcissa. Please pass on my sincere apologies -- from the background information I'd obtained, and the fact that young Draco insisted on using a false name, I had gathered that I was to destroy the young woman's career, not foster it."
Draco clenched his teeth, seething. So much for studying the background. Sometimes the cryptic ways of his kin made him long for the blessed simplicity of a life like Potter's, where people spoke frank words and played a fair hand, and anyone who didn't was judged an incorrigible menace to be disposed of.
"You had indeed misjudged the situation," Narcissa said, crossing her arms. "The false name had been a necessity because Miss Weasley is not overly fond of my son quite yet, but that's no longer an issue. Now, please, Adalbert. We are running out of Floo time."
"Of course. How much do you know about wizarding sports in America?"
"As much as I know about wizarding sports anywhere else, which is to say, very little."
"I see, I see." Coury resumed pacing. "Then you must understand that here, the entire sports industry exists only by the leave of very powerful and influential personages, most of whom have strong, deep ties with the government -- state-level, usually, but sometimes even federal."
Draco sat up straighter and leaned forward a bit, taking care not to enter Coury's field of vision.
"Go on," Narcissa said.
"What I mean by that is the real competition has ever been not between the teams themselves, but between their sponsors. The winner is the team with the best resources, not necessarily the best players, managers, or strategists."
"I'm not sure I understand."
"That's not the part you need to understand, precisely," Coury said. "For that was the way of the past. At the start, it was a competition of resources, but as good equipment, facilities, and players cost quite a bit, the sponsors had to find ways to recoup their costs -- or the whole game became vastly unprofitable, despite ticket and merchandise sales. I'll spare you the tedious tale of the many turf wars that ensued and simply say that nowadays, the outcomes of games are determined in advance, in conference rooms between competing team sponsors. They also control large segments of the betting industry, which is where most of the profit comes from. Of course, that is administered very carefully, too -- the bulk of winnings go back into the sponsors' pockets, but several times a season, they allow a large win for an unrelated party, just to make sure no one becomes suspicious of where the money goes. To sum up, the sponsors negotiate, the results of that are transmitted to team managers, who then plan game strategies that shall achieve the desired outcome while the sponsors arrange the betting."
Thunderstruck, Draco stared at his mother, who merely looked annoyed.
"So what of the players?" she asked.
"The athletes -- save for team captains, who are hand-picked for both their prowess and their ability to keep their mouths shut -- are not aware of where the real battle happens, of course; it would cause far too much of a scandal and disqualify all our players from international competitions. There's a whole other circuit dedicated to international games, and that's why we also make sure that all our players are top quality, so that they can hold their own if they must win by their abilities alone."
"And the Strikers' recent loss?"
"Your charge was supposed to have taken the fall for the team, but she proved to be far too good; she ended up the hero who did everything but fall on her own sword. It didn't change the outcome -- the Strikers' manager is very good, even though she hates what her job entails -- but it was most vexing. I must say I had been looking forward to breaking her, after that."
Narcissa drew herself up. "You will do no such thing, of course, now that you understand the situation fully."
"Of course. You... don't look as outraged as I feared you might be. I remember how serious Quidditch was back home, and I'm given to understand your son is quite a fan."
"He is, but I'm not. That is why I chose to speak with you. Were my son here, he surely would do something supremely unwise, like try to expose your little racket to the world. He's rather passionate about Quidditch."
Narcissa gave Draco a significant look. He glanced away, his ears and cheeks tingling with the very outrage absent from his mother's features.
"I'm relieved to hear that you do not feel exposing our little -- what was the charming word you used? Ah, racket -- would be ill-advised, though what I've told you is hardly anything that isn't proposed at least once per season by some conspiracy theorist. It's also frequently written about in the papers, as a bug-eyed theory, of course. It's such a vast operation that proving it exists is, frankly, not possible. The government ignores it, you see, for sponsor earnings are quite heavily taxed. Should these earnings and taxes disappear, our country's economy may never recover. And that would have severe repercussions on the rest of the wizarding world, as I am sure you understand."
Narcissa gave a low, unamused laugh. "Lucius had always been weary of what he called the Western menace; I used to think him slightly foolish for it, but perhaps he had good reasons to feel that way."
"Ah, Lucius was always such a pragmatic man. I rather miss him, don't you?"
"My dear Adalbert, let us pretend we've already traded the insults your wounded pride requires, shall we?" Narcissa's smile was paper-thin.
Coury grinned broadly. "Are we that low on time?"
"Yes. I seem to have misjudged the quantity of powder necessary for a comfortable conversation -- I'm afraid it won't be possible for me to reconnect again for a long time, since our fireplaces are monitored by England's finest Aurors."
Coury giggled. The sound was so incongruous with his appearance that Draco began to hate him in earnest. "Ah, yes. The last thing we'd want is for your Ministry to take an interest in little old me."
"Well, then, Adalbert. It has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you after all this time."
"Please, please -- the pleasure was all mine. We must do this again."
"Of course. Good-bye."
"I shall give Flavia your very best."
Coury vanished. A moment later, the flame burned yellow-red again.
Narcissa let out a long breath, her strained smile dissolving into a glower. "What an absolute wanker."
Draco gaped at her. He didn't think that in all the years he'd known his mother -- and he'd known her all his life, thank you very much -- he had ever heard her use such a word to refer to anyone.
There was a loud bang, and a house-elf appeared in the middle of the room, holding Luce, who struggled and flailed in its grip. Dorsey bounded into the room, tail wagging.
"Mistress Luce wished to see Mistress Narcissa," the elf squeaked as it put Luce on the floor. "Toby is sorry to intrude."
"Don't be sorry," Narcissa said, leaning down and letting Luce grab her hands and rise. "She does as she will; you can't help if she misses her mother. Right?"
"Mama," Luce said emphatically, staring at Draco.
"No, I'm Draco," Draco said. "I am your brother. Mother's right next to you."
He would have preferred that Luce had waited to see Narcissa, for he felt they had much to discuss, but his mother looked exhausted. Perhaps it would be better for her attention to focus elsewhere for the time being.
"I think I'll go and see if Luce will consent to a nap," Narcissa said.
"Yes, Mother," Draco said, rising. "May I do as I please with what I heard?"
Narcissa nodded, letting go of Luce. "Yes. I do trust you won't do anything... unwise."
Draco inclined his head in turn. "Wouldn't dream of it."
"Come, Luce," Narcissa commanded. "Nap."
Luce squeaked something unintelligible, but it didn't sound like a protest.
As Narcissa turned to leave, Draco called, "Mother?"
"Flavia? Oh, we went to school together. You might know her nephew, Marcus Belby. He's about your age, I believe."
"What was that Coury said about--"
"That," Narcissa said, "has got nothing to do with us any more." She glided out, Luce on her heels, pursued closely by Dorsey.
Draco let them go, silently. The last time he'd seen his mother look so sad had been during the visit to his father's grave. There were, perhaps, some things about his mother's past that he should never know.
He had known what he would tell Ginny ever since Coury had started his explanation. He couldn't write her about this; the last thing he wanted was to create a parchment trail that could lead back to him should some of the very powerful people Coury spoke about take exception find out about it. He had been personally, deeply outraged by what he'd heard -- certainly, a few fixed games here and there were to be expected; it happened even in England, but a whole industry built on deception?
Draco took a pinch of Far-Flung Floo Powder from the bowl and threw it in. "United States relay station, Salem, Salem Strikers Compound, Ginevra Weasley." He had never actually used the thing before, but he hoped it would work.
"Far-Flung Floo Network connection in progress," droned the woman's voice. "Please stand by while we attempt to initiate contact with your party. Please note that the recipient will be notified of your identity prior to connection." There was a low-pitched whistle somewhere deep in the flames. "The party you are calling is unavailable. You may leave a message after the sound of the whistle. Message length limit is one minute. Message will be held for twenty-four hours. Should your party not retrieve your message in the allotted time period, please try your call again. The Far-Flung Floo Network apologises for any inconvenience."
A high-pitched whistle sounded almost instantly, and Draco blinked into the flames, temporarily speechless.
"Uh, Ginny, it's. It's Draco Malfoy. I got your letter, but I can't write back. I have to be--" Shit. If our fireplace is monitored by Aurors, who's to say Ginny's fireplace isn't monitored by the eminent sponsors? They haven't kept this under wraps for so long by being idiots. "--somewhere. I have to be somewhere for a while, and I can't write any letters because of, uh, a spell. Anyway, hope the weather's nice over there. Look, I'll talk to you when you're here for Christmas. Ask your mother about it. Bye."
Harry stood in the vestibule of Cornwall House, wondering why he felt such oppressive trepidation. A month had passed since Zabini's little stunt with Malfoy and the Firewhisky; Harry hadn't seen Malfoy since then, though the things Malfoy had said to him had altered Harry's reality significantly, and he wasn't sure if he was pissed off at Malfoy for it or grateful for the badly needed change of perspective.
He just wasn't sure how to act around Malfoy -- he had no interest in being friendly to the git, but he also didn't want to provoke him into anything. Not because he feared possible repercussions, but because he genuinely did not want to provoke Malfoy at all. If the two of them could get along civilly, Harry would be happy.
Problem was, would Malfoy feel the same way?
"Sorry," Danna called. "Come on in; I had to keep you out here until Stuart's break started. We've had some trouble today, so he was pretty busy."
"What kind of trouble?" Harry asked, following her inside the compound.
"You know that's confidential," Danna said, giving him an amused look over her shoulder. "He's in my office; you can talk freely there. If you need anything, I'm right outside."
Harry walked into the office, where Malfoy sat slumped over Danna's desk, resting his head on his folded arms. The protective gloves he wore were splattered with what looked suspiciously like blood.
Malfoy sat up abruptly and hid his hands under the desk. "Potter."
He looked like utter shit. His eyes were sunken and there were streaks of dirt and, again, blood on his pale cheeks.
"What happened? You--"
"Don't worry about it," Malfoy said. "I could actually tell you if I wanted, because the gag spell doesn't work in here, but Danna would not appreciate that." After a pause, he added, "Neither would you. Trust me."
"Does it have anything to do with your performance at Cornwall House?"
"No. Danna can tell you if there's a problem with my performance. I don't understand why you even need to talk to me. You didn't last time."
"I didn't feel the need to."
Something flashed in Malfoy's empty eyes. "And look where that got us."
"Let's not talk about that," Harry said, taking a seat in the armchair opposite the desk. "I just have a few questions for you."
"One of them is not about your work here."
There was a snapping sound under the desk, and Malfoy lifted a bare hand to brush his long hair away from his face. "Just get on with it, will you? I don't really have time for witty banter."
Harry desperately wished to know what had happened -- what was so important to Malfoy that he wasn't even interested in the one-upmanship he was usually so fond of. But if neither Danna nor Malfoy were inclined to discuss it, Harry had no business knowing it. That pissed him off for some vague reason he didn't care to examine too closely.
"Given the expanded nature of your work at Cornwall House over the past month, do you feel you are able to complete your term as agreed with Mr Robards?"
Malfoy gave a hollow laugh. "Able? No, I don't feel I am able, but I will finish it anyway. I have to. Next question."
"Would you be willing to consider a reassignment?"
"A reassignment? Why?"
"You are obviously under a great deal of stress," Harry said slowly. "It is not in the Department's interests to punish you with a task that is too difficult--"
"If it's a lawsuit your boss is worried about, tell him not to worry. I need to be here. I'll do it. It won't kill me."
Harry realised suddenly what had bothered him so much about Malfoy's demeanour. The boy Harry had only known to be a coward who hid behind those stronger than him when things went south, who relied on deceit and used people as though it were his right -- that boy appeared to have acquired a real, honest-to-God spine in a matter of just a few weeks. Perhaps this whole reparations programme wasn't a total waste of resources after all.
"All right, I'll add these notes to my report. That was it, really. Just a progress check."
Malfoy snapped the other glove off and raised both hands to scrub his face, as though he were having trouble staying alert. "You said you had another question."
"You don't have to answer it."
"I know. Ask it anyway."
"I-- look, this is about Ginny. I don't know much, but she's up to something in America and your name's come up a few times, and I thought--"
Malfoy glanced up sharply. "What is she up to?"
Harry's heart dropped. "You don't know?"
The bits and pieces he, Hermione, and Ron had been able to gather from Ginny's letters didn't amount to much, but they had given him a sense of unease that grew with every breath he took. Last night, Ron had actually suggested that they talk to Malfoy -- nicely -- to find out what he knew. For Ron to suggest doing anything to Malfoy nicely was unusual enough; that he actually asked Harry to try smacked of desperation.
Malfoy took a deep breath, cast a quick glance outside at Danna, who seemed to pay them no mind, and faced Harry again. "This isn't a conversation we can have here or now. I believe Ginny may be in trouble. I don't fucking want to talk to you about this, but you have resources that I don't. Will you meet me somewhere -- later, not today -- somewhere safe so I can tell you what I know?"
... agree to meet with Malfoy and see what he has to say.
... insist that Malfoy at least give him some idea of what's going on before he agrees.
... tell Malfoy he'll get back to him; he should talk to Ron and Hermione first. Maybe this confirmation that something's wrong is all they need; why involve Malfoy?
... refuse and insist that Malfoy tell him everything right away.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[XVI. Adalbert | ToC | XVIII. Yardstick]