Title: Ascension [ToC]
Chapter: II. Artefacts
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Chapter Warning[s]: None.
Chapter Length: 3700
Chapter Summary: The Ministry visits the Malfoy Manor cellars, and Harry Potter considers the persecution complex.
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 answer Ginny's question politely but make no further attempt at conversation.]
"Six months," Draco said, leaning down to return Luce's dropped rattle. Luce's fingers closed around the handle, but it was absent-minded; she was studying Ginny with a look of puzzlement.
"What's her name?" Ginny asked.
"Lucy," Draco said, fussing with Luce's blanket.
The baby frowned, and Draco wondered if she could sense the lie. He straightened and offered a polite smile to Potter. "Once again, I'm terribly sorry for bumping into you -- are you sure you're all right? We've got somewhere to be, you see."
"Sure, no problem," Potter repeated.
"Thank you," Draco said, nodding to both of them. "Have a pleasant day."
He hurried away without waiting for them to respond. He wanted to look back but didn't. Sooner or later, the questions would have turned away from the baby and to the woman pushing the pram. He had not thought of a name for the pretty young governess, let alone a life story -- he hadn't expected needing to make conversation with anyone except salesclerks.
Still, it had been strange to face Potter and Ginny like this, to have them regard him as another wizarding being rather than a bit of dung on their shoes. He'd last seen them at the Death Eater trials, looking up at them from the row of prisoner chairs as Potter testified on behalf of Draco's mother, and then, thirty minutes later, against Draco and his father.
Potter's face had been merely one in a procession of Draco's fellow students condemning his actions during his seventh year at Hogwarts, even though Draco had hardly been an instigator during the Carrows' reign of terror. He'd tagged along with the rest of the Inquisitorial Squad, sure, but he'd only been doing what was expected of him.
He hadn't personally harmed a single fellow student during that year, but that counted for nothing. It was true that the pack-like nature of the Inquisitorial Squad had saved them all from prison in the end, but Draco reckoned he might've avoided even house arrest had he been given a truly fair trial, without presumption of guilt.
Professor Snape was dead, so there had been no one to raise the issue of Potter using Dark magic to curse Draco in the bathroom during sixth year -- oh, Draco was certain all of Potter's little friends had known of the incident, but not one of them mentioned it. Had Draco brought it up in his defense, it would have been seen as a pitiful blame-shifting.
That didn't change the fact that had Potter chosen his much-celebrated Disarming Charm instead of hexes that day, Draco wouldn't have kept fighting. He'd never been closer to simply approaching Potter to seek his help and protection than that afternoon. But Potter had seen him at his weakest and most shameful, and when Draco fired a hex out of sheer humiliation, Potter had fought him, carved Draco up like a Christmas goose.
After that, Draco had thought of escape no longer; both sides had nothing to offer but pain. Better the devil you know.
No one had mentioned his obvious reluctance to identify Potter when he'd been captured in Malfoy Manor, either. Not even Granger -- and she had known that Draco had recognised her; her pale, frightened face dumbstruck with gratitude was one of the few things that Draco remembered clearly from that night.
It was done, though, finished, and Draco knew he couldn't hope to get any meaningful revenge, so it did nothing to dwell on it. History would always be penned by the victors. And yet he felt a perverse sort of pleasure at having fooled Potter earlier.
He paused in front of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. Obnoxious adverts clamoured for attention from the display windows, and the giant sign now made rude noises at passersby. Since Draco had last been here, the joke shop had absorbed the Bulstrodes' jewellery shop next door. So they'd even gone after the half-blood Death Eaters.
A passing woman smiled at Draco and cut her eyes towards the pram. The odd commiseration in her expression unnerved him: was his disguise slipping? Draco hurried on, stealing a glance at a window display. Then he realised the passerby hadn't seen Draco, but a lone woman with a pram; perhaps her face hadn't been commiserative, but wistful.
His disguise was excellent, but Luce drew too much attention.
Twilfitt and Tatting's was boarded up. Mother had told Draco that they'd been forced to move to Edinburgh after Madam Malkin's got Hermione Granger to model for last year's Back to School catalogue. A sandwich board next to the shop entrance announced that a Muggle World Tour travel agency was coming soon. A brochure floated towards him from a box under the board, but Draco didn't take it.
Lucius had once told a five-year-old Draco that Diagon Alley reflected the very essence of the wizarding world. All these shops full of magical items and creatures in the middle of a bustling Muggle metropolis were proof of wizards' superiority: no Muggle could go undetected for long in a wizarding place, but wizards could do as they liked no matter where they went.
Four years after that conversation, Lucius's lobby to reinstate a "wizarding ownership only" law for Diagon Alley shops had failed, and he'd no longer talked about it to his son. Despite that, Draco had always loved coming here -- it had made him feel as though he were thumbing his nose at all the stupid Muggles around the place. It had made him feel special.
Now there was a travel agency for trips into the Muggle world. What would they do next -- call Diagon Alley a theme park and open it up for Muggle gawkers? Not much had changed within the Alley itself, true, but it felt different to Draco. Even without the risk of stares and whispers of Death Eater, he didn't feel like he belonged here. Would it be the same in all the other wizarding places he used to love? The disguise would serve him well enough, but he really needed to think of a name and cover story for this governess before he ventured out as her again.
Luce began to cry, as though Draco's gloomy thoughts had touched her. Draco gathered her up, one-armed, and turned the pram back towards the Alley entrance. There was nothing for either of them here.
He returned home, put Luce down for a nap, and returned himself to normal. His mother was in the drawing room, reclining by the window and watching a pair of rabbits chase each other around the gazebo out on the grounds.
"How was it?" she asked when Draco took a seat opposite her.
"Luce enjoyed the cobblestones," Draco said.
"I ran into Potter."
Narcissa looked up sharply. "And?"
"And nothing; he didn't know me. His girlfriend made eyes at Luce, but she didn't know me, either."
"I see. I suppose babies are all the rage now, aren't they? After the war."
Draco harrumphed. "It would be a shame if she got herself pregnant so young. She could do better than Potter, for starters. Blood traitor or not--"
"Yes, Mother," Draco said with a sigh.
Narcissa regarded him quietly for a moment. "So -- is Harry Potter well?"
"He didn't seem ill to me. Why?"
Narcissa gazed out at the grounds again. "I suppose I feel something for that boy, ever since that night in the forest. I saw him on the ground, lifeless, and I couldn't help wondering -- what if the world were upside down and you had been the Boy Who Lived, and your life were in some other woman's hands? So when I felt his heart still beating underneath my fingertips, I couldn't betray that child."
Draco resisted rolling his eyes and glanced at the two-way mirror showing Luce's nursery, instead. The baby slept; a house-elf sat next to the cot, knitting. "It was a wise decision at any rate," he remarked. "Who knows what might've happened had the Dark Lord won."
"We have agreed to call that man Tom Riddle, have we not?"
"Speaking of the war's aftermath, a Ministry owl brought this today." She leaned across the coffee table to hand Draco a folded piece of parchment.
Dear Mrs Malfoy,
This is to inform you that members of the Task Force for Elimination of Dark Artefacts shall be visiting your domicile on Monday to seize any dangerous or illegal items on the premises.
The Department of Magical Law Enforcement trusts that you remember that the acquisition and disposal of these items is one of the absolute conditions of your and your late husband's sentences, and members of your household, including sentient magical creatures, are thus expected to be present and available to answer any questions the visiting Aurors may have.
Please be advised that the restrictions on carrying non-approved magical artefacts in or out of your home shall continue to apply until further notice even after this inspection is completed.
Assistant Secretary to Department Head
P.S. Please also be advised that we have obtained international warrants to conduct the same inspections at all your other properties on the attached list. As the Ministry of Magic does not wish to inconvenience you unduly, your presence shall not be required for the other inspections, but we kindly ask that you inform your housekeeping staff of the impending visits, which shall be carried out over the fourteen days beginning on Monday.
Draco threw the parchment down on the coffee table, disgusted. "They could have come here any time when we weren't around, but no, they waited until we were back. They're just doing this to jerk us around and humiliate us."
"Bear with it, Draco," Narcissa said, clapping her hands once. "Bring us some elderflower wine, please," she said to the appearing house-elf. "Medium grade is fine, and well-chilled, mind."
The elf returned almost instantly with a gleaming tray bearing two crystal goblets. Draco picked one up and drained it, barely paying attention to the flavour. He didn't understand how his mother could be so calm about this!
"Do you even have a plan?" he asked, shoving the empty goblet aside. "Are you just going to go along with their bullying and hope they think you've changed?"
"There is no need to raise your voice," Narcissa said. "The war is still fresh in everyone's minds, and we're going to have to keep a low profile. I understand you are frustrated, but respect and trust are not regained easily. You will learn that, if you learn nothing else."
Draco took a deep, deep breath. Regaining whose respect and trust? The winners of the war had never respected or trusted the Malfoy family in the first place. But the two of them had already had that argument far too many times, and he knew he wasn't going to win it today, either. "I'm sorry, Mother. I'll do my best."
"See that you do."
Monday brought a grey, ponderous sky, and Aurors in the middle of breakfast.
"Mistress, Young Master. Four wizards from the Ministry have come to call. Shelly has shown them into the parlour. They did not wish for tea or biscuits."
"Thank you, Shelly," Narcissa told the house-elf. "Bid the others to greet our guests in the parlour, and join them after you bring a change of clothes for Luce. Something with Martin Miggs on it, if you please."
"Right away, Mistress."
Draco watched as Narcissa stripped off Luce's cute foam-green bodysuit and replaced it with a gaudy purple tunic bearing the grinning face of Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle, an image that had heretofore been forbidden within the Manor's walls.
"What are you doing?" Draco demanded.
"Luce is a member of this household," Narcissa said. "The letter was quite clear, wasn't it?"
"She's just a baby," Draco protested. "She can't answer any questions -- they couldn't possibly have meant her--"
Narcissa smiled at him, hefting a squirming Luce higher on her hip. "Tell me, Draco. If you were an Auror sent to investigate a notorious former Death Eater's mansion for unspeakable Dark artefacts, how would you react if one of the scary Death Eaters carried an adorable baby?"
Suddenly Draco understood about Martin Miggs. "So you're using her to-- to get sympathy?"
"Not sympathy," Narcissa said. "They need to see that we are a family before we are former Death Eaters. Let us go."
Draco swiped at his mouth hastily with a serviette and followed his mother into the parlour, where the four Aurors stood drowning in a small pond of house-elves.
"Good morning, gentlemen," Narcissa called. "We apologise for making you wait."
The Auror with his back to the door turned around, and Draco had to hold back a hiss of surprise at seeing Potter's face again.
"Good morning, Mrs Malfoy, Mr Malfoy," said a tall, bearded man in crimson robes. "My name is Archibald Smythe, and these are my colleagues Savage, Williamson, and Potter. You are aware of the reason for our visit, I trust."
"Wait a minute, Smythe," said the pony-tailed Williamson, eyeing Luce with an uncertain grin. "We were told there'd be two people and thirty-seven house-elves, but there's nothing here about a baby." He waved an official-looking form in Smythe's face.
Narcissa's eyebrows rose, and she hugged Luce closer to herself. "This is Luce, Luce Marino; I adopted her in Sicily. All the paperwork was sent to the Ministry via owl post months ago, Mr Williamson."
Williamson looked at Potter. "You know anything about this, Harry? It's your case file, innit."
Potter shook his head. "We haven't received anything from the Family Registry Bureau," he said quietly, gazing at Luce.
Draco's heart skipped. Surely Potter wouldn't recognise her? He'd barely glanced at Luce...
"You look well, Harry," Narcissa said.
"Thanks, Mrs Malfoy," Potter replied with an awkward shrug. "You as well."
Luce, who had been staring in awe at the multitude of house-elves, lifted her gaze to Potter and grinned broadly. Did she recognise him? Impossible.
Harry grinned back. "We'll deal with the adoption paperwork later," he said. "We're here for the cellars."
"Of course," Narcissa said. "Draco, darling, will you take her? I'll need to go ahead and undo the wards on the cellar stairs."
Draco took Luce from her, not quite trusting himself to speak; all the words his brain was offering at the moment were rather rude.
"Malfoy," Potter muttered, following Narcissa and the others out.
"Potter," Draco replied, avoiding his eyes. Luce stretched her hands out after Narcissa, and Draco followed obediently.
"The little girl, uh, you don't need to bring her down with you," Savage said to Draco as they waited for Narcissa to finish unravelling the charms guarding the main cellar stairwell. "Air down there's probably bad."
"Thank you for being so considerate, Mr Savage," Narcissa called. "Is it all right if Draco stays upstairs with Luce, then? She gets rather upset if she's alone."
Smythe glanced at him, and Draco saw distrust flicker across his face like a shadow. "It's fine," he said. "If we need to ask him anything, we'll do it later. When we question the house-elves."
That last had come as an afterthought, but it was obviously deliberate. Draco's face burned with furious shame, but he swallowed his retort and focussed on the marble under his feet. Just once. He would endure this just this once, for his family's sake.
As Narcissa disappeared down the stairs, Luce's little arms began to flail in protest, so Draco caught one of her hands in his mouth and pretended to munch on it, making Luce chortle. He let go and smiled back at her, then saw Potter staring at them from the top of the staircase.
"Is something the matter?" Draco asked as Luce caught hold of his hair and tugged hard enough to tilt his head.
Had Potter recognised Luce? Was he wondering about the woman he saw, too? It wasn't a big deal, as it certainly wasn't illegal to disguise oneself with magic, but Draco didn't want to give Potter reasons to think a Malfoy was up to no good, not with his mother hell-bent on reshaping their family's image into a form more agreeable to the brave new wizarding world.
"No," Potter said. "It's nothing." He disappeared down the steps.
"Just once," Draco whispered.
Luce tugged his hair again and began to babble. She seemed to be dealing quite well with the strangers; perhaps he could start inviting his friends over. He'd worried about her getting scared of other people, but clearly he needn't have worried. He would just have to somehow impart to her the idea that grinning at Harry Potter was very bad.
Yet Draco's mind wandered back to Diagon Alley, where Potter had largely ignored him, and he was surprised to realise he'd preferred that to Potter's wary alertness today. Disliking -- and being disliked by -- Harry Potter had given shape to so much of Draco's adolescence that he'd never even considered what it would be like if they just didn't give a fuck about each other.
Was it possible to stop hating someone? Draco had never had a reason to try, and he certainly didn't have one now. Beyond his mother's vague plans for the future, he didn't know what he wanted to do, but trying to win Harry Potter's favour was not in his plans, life debt or no life debt.
Harry glanced at the owl-shaped clock on his desk. Seven o'clock and he was still at the office. Again. They hadn't left Malfoy Manor until four, and it had taken him an hour to track down baby Luce's adoption paperwork. The Family Registry wonks hadn't thought it was necessary to inform the Auror Office of an adoption in a family still under active investigation. Honestly.
Sometimes Harry wondered if he should have just gone back to school with Hermione and then chosen a career in textile design. If all the red tape in the Ministry were unravelled, it could be used to wrap Christmas presents for every child under the sun for the next several centuries. No accountability, no communication between departments, and sixty per cent of the employees wasted half their workdays on gossip and WWN broadcasts. Even Uncle Vernon's work ethic put these people to shame.
He studied the adoption certificate again. It was in Italian, but Narcissa Malfoy had provided an official translation. Luce Marino; mother, Alessandra Marino, father unknown. Born on November 1 -- just a few weeks after the Malfoys had departed England for the winter. Had Narcissa known the family, had they arranged to adopt Luce beforehand? But those questions were strictly "none of your business" territory; the paperwork was flawless. Harry was sure that even if he paid a visit to the Marino household when they went down to inspect the Malfoy property in Sicily, he'd get nowhere.
But something about this smelled wrong to Harry; he'd seen that baby laughing in her pram in Diagon Alley the other day. Harry had Healed the bruise on his leg, but he remembered the baby's face. Who had that woman been? Could she have been Alessandra, the mother? She'd seemed skittish, effusively friendly at first and then running off abruptly the minute Ginny started asking questions about the child. Had she been Sicilian? Harry had no idea what people in Sicily looked like. He couldn't even remember the woman's face all that well; she'd worn a veil.
If that had been the girl's mother, had they brought her into the country without permission so the baby could nurse; was it that simple? But that, though illegal, would not earn them more than a wrist-slap, even with their tenuous status as former Death Eaters. And considering the Malfoys' vast wealth, the fine for illegally harbouring a foreign national would be a pittance. No member of the Wizengamot was going to seriously punish an adoptive mother wanting her new child to have mother's milk instead of the fake stuff.
But the woman had said the baby's name was Lucy -- Harry had even Apparated to the Burrow to ask Ginny about it. What mother would mispronounce her child's name? It didn't fit. Was she just a babysitter? But then why had she dashed off like a raccoon from a rubbish bin? Perhaps she hadn't been allowed to take the baby out; who knew?
He could've just asked the Malfoys -- Narcissa had certainly been cooperative -- but something had stopped him; a fear of looking stupid in front of the others, perhaps. Look at the cute little rookie jumping at shadows again, that kind of thing. And really, it was none of his business, but a quiet voice deep inside him kept insisting that something was wrong here, that someone was lying. He could hardly believe how subdued Draco Malfoy had been all day -- as though he were trying to avoid Harry noticing something.
Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, then polished off his cold, stale coffee and went back to the file in front of him. Other than the adoption papers, what else was there? He glanced at the transcription of the letter Narcissa had sent to Azkaban, the one Lucius Malfoy never got to read. There was nothing in it about adopting any babies -- she did mention spending a few months in Fontane Bianche but that was it. Well, she'd also written that after we come back, it will be difficult without you a few sentences after, but no sane person would read that and see "we're going to Fontane Bianche to adopt a baby".
Still, it stank, all of this, and Harry was willing to admit that maybe he was a little too paranoid when it came to the Malfoy family. Perhaps. The whole time he was in that cellar, he'd kept thinking he could still hear Hermione screaming under torture, somewhere far above his head where he couldn't reach her.
Narcissa had saved him -- saved them all, really -- in the end, but that hadn't erased seven years of mutual hatred between Harry and her son, nor had it erased the father's crimes. Or the son's. They were Death Eaters, and it was his case file -- wasn't he allowed to be diligent? The woman running off, Narcissa's unexpected cheerfulness, Luce's Muggle-friendly outfit, Draco acting like a spooked cat...
Harry eyed the clock again. Seven thirty. He needed to finish this blasted report one way or another.
Make a note about the woman and his suspicions in the report and indicate that an investigation might be necessary.
Make a note about the woman and his suspicions in the report but don't recommend an investigation. The Malfoys are under strict watch; what could they possibly do?
Find time to investigate the woman on his own so he has something concrete to launch an official investigation.
Decide he's being way too paranoid and leave well enough alone; the woman's probably just a babysitter.
Investigate the shrubbery.
[I. Luce | ToC | III. Laura]