Pairing[s]: Harry/Draco and others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 3100 words
Summary: If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise. [William Blake]
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Interregnum - Chapter 03
"This is Vaisey," said Millicent, sniggering. "He's a fellow Obliviator."
Zabini's face wore a look of sudden understanding; he'd obviously figured out what Millicent had done with her wand earlier.
"A former Obliviator, you mean," said Patrick.
"What do you mean?" asked Millicent, turning to look at him.
Patrick gestured around the pub. "Do you really think they're going to keep us employed now? There are something like two hundred Obliviators employed all across England, but most of us were needed to keep the Muggles ignorant."
"Are you sure?" asked Millicent.
"Nah," said Patrick. "Pure speculation."
He drummed a shave-and-a-haircut on the tabletop and Millicent watched his left little finger arc up and then slowly come down: Obliviator hand-speak for I know more. Millicent understood it to mean that he didn't want to say any more in front of Zabini.
"You look familiar," said Zabini, who clearly hadn't realised the significance of Patrick's words. Not that Millicent expected him to -- he'd never worked a day in his life.
"Amazing," said Patrick. His light eyes were cold.
Millicent remembered a quiet evening in the Slytherin common room in her sixth year, when Zabini had dressed Patrick down for sitting in "Zabini's" favourite armchair and not vacating it promptly when Zabini had walked up to him. It had been a minor incident, but she wouldn't be surprised if Patrick still held a grudge over it.
Zabini, clearly bewildered, continued to study Patrick, still trying to work out where he knew him from. A woman's voice called his name, and Zabini looked round, grinning. "Well, fascinating as this was, I must go."
He left without another word or even a glance in their direction. Patrick's slitted gaze followed him to another table, where a pale woman waited, a woman so beautiful she looked like a painting come to life. Millicent didn't recognise her, nor could she make out anything the two were saying, so she turned her attention back to Patrick.
"Don't tell me you're still cross with him over the chair thing."
"You remember the chair thing," said Patrick. "Who else does?"
"Dunno," said Millicent. "I think I only remember it because we're friends."
"I wonder what he's doing here," said Patrick. "Last I heard, he'd fucked off to Switzerland."
"Germany," corrected Millicent. "I can tell by the robes."
"Whatever. Do you know that woman?"
"No," said Millicent. "Looks a bit too posh for the Mad Kneazle, though, doesn't she?"
Patrick nodded and looked away from Zabini and his companion. "Never mind them," he said. "I've got news."
Millicent waited as he flagged down a waitress. By the time his lager arrived, Patrick seemed to have forgotten all about Blaise Zabini's reappearance in his life.
"You said you had news," she reminded him after Patrick had downed half of his beer.
"We're going to be made redundant," said Patrick. "They're leaving skeleton crews in the major cities, but every other Obliviator is going to be absorbed into Accidents and Catastrophes."
"Fantastic," said Millicent, scowling. "I can't wait to sign up for de-gnoming the Buckingham Palace Garden."
"That's not all," said Patrick, grinning at her over the top of his pint. "The Minister has a job for us."
"He does?" Millicent had only met Kingsley Shacklebolt once, when she'd been sworn in as an Obliviator three years ago. She had no idea he knew of her existence.
"Well, the job was just for me originally, but I told him I wasn't going to do it unless you were contracted, too." Millicent waited for Patrick to give her an expectant look, to say that naturally, these sorts of things didn't come for free, but he just continued speaking. "Shacklebolt wants us to find out which old Death Eater families were abroad this weekend."
"He thinks the Death Eaters tried to throw nukular bombs at us?" asked Millicent, taken aback.
Patrick shrugged. "He didn't say why he wanted this done."
"Since when are you on speaking terms with the Minister, anyway?" asked Millicent.
"He's dating my mother," said Patrick with a grin. "I think he worked out that she wouldn't be too impressed if I lost my job because of his poor judgement. He also knows I'm too junior to have any hope of joining the Newcastle crew, and he's too proper to go over Baddock's head in something like that."
"Smooth," said Millicent. "I always knew he wasn't all Gryffindor." In fact, Shacklebolt had been the best Minister for Magic in years before this weekend's events. Only time would tell if he could recover from those. "But what do you need me for?"
Patrick looked in the direction of Zabini's table. Millicent did, too: Zabini and his woman friend were gone. Patrick turned back to Millicent. "We're going to get married," he said.
She blinked. Patrick was all right, but sometimes his mouth moved far faster than his brain."You and who?"
"You and me," said Patrick with some impatience.
Millicent made a face. "If this is your idea of a joke--"
"It's not! I've worked it all out -- I mean, people might wonder why I'm marrying you, after all, you're--" He stopped, flushing from neck to forehead.
"Fat," said Millicent. "You can say it; I don't mind. On the ugly side, too, I think."
"It's not that," said Patrick, still crimson. "I don't think you're ugly."
"If you're going to try and tell me I'm big-boned, Patrick Vaisey, you will wear this table as a neck ornament."
Patrick drowned his embarrassment in three deep swallows of beer. Millicent glowered. It wasn't exactly heart-warming to think of herself as a miniature female troll, but she certainly looked the part. Flattery about her looks was the worst move on anyone's part. Adalbert Tatting had been the first person to experience that: Twilfitt and Tatting's had lost all Bulstrode custom after he had called the eleven-year-old Millicent a "pretty little girl".
Patrick tapped his right index finger on the side of his nose twice. Can we pretend that didn't happen?
Millicent nodded, and pressed her thumb briefly under her chin. Start over.
"Look, Ginny, I'm not going to beat around the bush. I miss you. I wish we hadn't broken up. Could we try again? Please?"
Harry stared at the mirror as his words echoed in the empty bathroom. Short and to the point, but it was a yes-or-no question. Too easy to answer, and Harry knew all too well what the answer was likely to be. It wasn't as though he hadn't asked before. He tried not to ask her every time he saw her, but it was hard. It killed him to feel her stiffen when he hugged her hello, to see her flinch ever so slightly whenever he brushed against her during a meal or a Quidditch game.
"Are you hungry? Kreacher's made steak-and-kidney pie--" Harry trailed off and turned in the kitchen doorway, realising that Ginny had made no move inside the house.
"We need to talk."
"What about?" asked Harry, only half surprised. She had been acting strangely for the past few months, and he'd given her the space she seemed to crave, hadn't pressed her for details. He'd reckoned she would talk to him whenever she was ready. It looked like now was the time.
Ginny looked miserable. "I don't think we should live together anymore, Harry."
Harry stared at her. "I-- what? Why?" He had had no idea what to expect, but certainly not this."Is it Kreacher? I can send him to Hogwarts, I don't mind." Kreacher quietly disapproved of Harry and Ginny living in sin, and refused to treat her with full respect until she agreed to get married.
"It isn't Kreacher. I'm not just... moving out. I don't think we should be together at all."
Cold. "You're breaking up with me." A part of his mind began to grope for clues that this was a dream, that he'd dozed off over a case file in the drawing room...
"I'm really, really sorry," said Ginny. "It's my fault."
Harry barely heard her. Confusion and anger battled inside him, and he had to fight not to give in to either. She hadn't let him touch her in bed for... weeks? "Who is he?"
"No one," said Ginny, her tone suddenly razor-sharp. "I haven't cheated on you, if that's what you're implying."
"Then why--?" Harry was unable to form words to express his bewilderment.
Ginny drew herself up, her eyes brighter than usual. "I don't love you anymore."
"All right there, Mr Potter?"
Harry snapped around to see the Leaky's aging landlord peering up at him anxiously. "I'm fine, Tom," he said. "Just thinking."
"Miss Weasley is waiting at your table," said Tom, bowing a little. "I thought you ought to know."
"Yeah, thanks," said Harry. "I'll be right out."
He gave his reflection one last critical look, and still didn't like what he saw. His eyes were bloodshot after two nights of virtually no sleep, and there were uneven patches of stubble on the edges of his jaw that he hadn't noticed in the relative gloom of the Grimmauld Place bathroom that morning. He hadn't had time to change out of his Auror robes, but instead of making him look formidable, they hung from his frame like a potato sack that had travelled around the world a few times. So much for making an impression. Maybe she'd take pity on him when she saw how miserable he was without her.
Shaking his head at himself, Harry exited the tiny bathroom and headed for the booth he had reserved, far in the back of the pub. Ginny was in her Quidditch gear, her long hair pulled back from her face with a dark green headband. As always, it startled Harry how beautiful she was. He put on his best smile as he approached, determined not to let her see him gaping like a love-struck teenager.
"Hey," he said, sliding into the booth. He had decided not to hug her or try to touch her at all, since it always seemed to make her uncomfortable.
"Hi, Harry," said Ginny and nodded at his robes. "I take it work was exciting today?"
"Ugh," said Harry. "I never realised how much paperwork was needed for a trip to America. What about you? How's training going for the Harriers game?"
Ginny let out a frustrated little sigh. "Glynnis and Gwenog are driving us like Thestrals. If we keep at it, we'll all be falling off our brooms come August."
The Holyhead Harpies played against the Heidelberg Harriers a few weeks before summer's end every year, to commemorate the legendary seven-day match between the two teams. These were supposed to be friendly games, not part of the International League competitions, but both sides took them as seriously as the Quidditch World Cup.
"I'm sure it'll be worth it," said Harry. "Will you be playing here?"
"No," said Ginny, shaking her head. "We were supposed to, but the Harriers' manager decided they didn't want to travel to England considering the circumstances. The problem is, their stadium is under renovations until October, so we'll be playing in Berlin."
Harry, who had been planning to attend the match for months, realised he might not be done with his American assignment in time to go to Berlin. He set the thought aside firmly; there was no use worrying about it until he was on the scene. If all else failed, he was sure he could carve out a day for a visit to Germany.
"Good luck," he said. "Since I probably won't see you again before the match."
"Thanks," said Ginny.
Tom appeared to take their orders and reappeared with the food in record time. They ate without talking, and Harry was uncomfortably reminded of their last few months together, yawning silences and Ginny's eyes hiding underneath thick lashes. He had no idea when or how he was going to ask her for another chance. Would it really be different if things changed? He had always thought that if only they got back together, things would go right back to the way they had been immediately after the war. The two of them couldn't get enough of each other; they'd even moved in together to the general disapproval of the elders in the Weasley clan...
Harry looked up, realising that he had barely touched his food whilst Ginny's plate was empty. There was genuine concern on her face, and he hurried to reassure her. "Oh. Sorry. This America trip is a royal pain in the arse."
She nodded, "Eddie's over there now, and it took him a week to..." Ginny's face turned red. "To get all the permits," she finished.
Harry frowned. "Who's Eddie?"
Ginny sighed deeply. "My boyfriend. Eddie Carmichael. We've been together for three months."
Leaning against the wall behind him, Harry studied her, once again seized by an urge to convince himself he was dreaming. Eddie Carmichael was an Unspeakable. Harry saw him sometimes when he visited Hermione. Eddie had been the Ravenclaw who'd sold Harry and Ron some fake brain-enhancing potion in their fifth year. "Uh," he said. "That's... great!"
"I was going to tell you about him anyway," said Ginny, sounding somewhat alarmed. "Tonight."
Harry couldn't work out why she looked so frightened. Had she thought he would react badly? That he'd try to strangle this Carmichael bloke? Is that how pathetic she thought he was? True, he had been somewhat pathetic when it came to Ginny, but surely she didn't think he was like Cormac McLaggen, who was now in Azkaban for having cursed his wife after she looked at another wizard for a minute too long. He felt disgusted.
"Please don't tell me you've kept it from me because you thought I was going to do something to your new boyfriend," he said quietly, pushing his plate aside. Tom appeared to whisk it away, and Ginny seemed much more composed after he left.
"It crossed my mind," she said finally. "Can you blame me?"
Harry folded his hands as though to pray and rested his forehead on his knuckles. He had tried not to make a nuisance of himself, but he had never stopped trying to win Ginny back, never even considered that she might be trying to move on forever. He tried to imagine the situation reversed, and it startled him to realise that he probably would have feared for the life of any girlfriend he might have had whilst Ginny still had feelings for him. He and Ginny were extraordinarily alike, after all. He looked up. "No," he said. "But I promise you that I'm not going to do anything stupid. I'm not like McLaggen."
"I know that," said Ginny. "But--" Her mouth snapped shut. They looked at each other, across a table that might as well have been a bottomless pit.
"It's okay," said Harry. His chest felt curiously empty. "C'mon. Let's have some ice cream before Fortescue's closes."
Draco leaned on his cue and watched Blaise take a shot at a ball near the top left pocket. The cue ball whirled across the green cloth and struck its target head on. The red-striped ball squeaked with indignation, sprouted a tiny fist, and punched the cue ball hard instead of rolling into the pocket. The cue ball wailed all the way back to its original location behind the baulk line.
"This game defies laws of physics," said Blaise, wrinkling his nose. "Even Quidditch doesn't do that."
"You're just bitter because you've once again managed to piss off all your balls," said Draco. As if on cue, a blue-striped ball bounced up out of its pocket, pointed accusingly at Blaise, and told him to fuck his mother.
"There's another set of balls I could piss off," said Blaise, staring hard at Draco, who rolled his eyes.
"You won't throw me off my game by being crude, Zabini."
Draco blew bits of chalk from the end of his cue and leaned over the table. The yellow solid lay next to the right middle pocket, but with the cue ball where it was behind the baulk line, he'd need to bank it or hope for a dose of Felix Felicis to materialise in his system. All the same, he wanted the yellow gone so that he could stop thinking he was playing the English variant of the game.
The cue ball rolled towards the left bank, still whimpering a bit, and hit the yellow solid with a gentle tap. "Whee!" cried the solid as it sailed into the pocket.
"Finesse," said Draco, smirking at Blaise, who looked mulish. "What's with you? Did last night's trip not go well?"
"It went well enough," said Blaise, and set his cue down against the wall to pick up his Firewhisky. "Eva sends her love."
"How can she love me? She's never met me," quipped Draco, walking around the table. He still needed to sink the blue and maroon, but both were tricky shots.
Blaise favoured him with a wolfish grin. "How can anyone not love you?"
"Low blow, Zabini," said Draco.
He was getting tired of the game -- both the billiards and the cat-and-mouse he and Blaise had been playing for years. Blaise didn't do love or relationships. Draco had always thought he felt the same way, but lately he'd caught himself wondering what it would be like to have someone who was his alone. Someone who minded if Draco took others to his bed. The problem was, Blaise was the only other poof Draco knew whose company he could stomach for longer than a few hours. Another problem was, Blaise knew all about the first problem.
You really are your father's worst nightmare, you silly little queen.
Draco scowled at Blaise. "So, what did she tell you?"
"First, guess who else was at the Mad Kneazle."
"Salazar Slytherin," said Draco, deadpan. "Sloshed on Firewhisky and proclaiming that this violation of the Statute was exactly what he'd feared."
Blaise grinned. "Not quite, I'm afraid. Remember Millicent Bulstrode?"
"The fat one?"
"The same. Apparently, she works as an Obliviator now. She reckons there's been a nuclear attack against England."
"Muggle bombs," said Blaise impatiently. "The biggest and scariest."
"Oh," said Draco, circling the table once more. "So?"
"So Eva says it's rubbish. She says Shacklebolt somehow found out about the Muggle army's training exercises and thought they were real. He panicked. Now he's trying to cover it up."