Chapter: III. Laura
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); Blaise/Draco.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Chapter Warnings: None
Chapter Length: 3700
Chapter Summary: Harry lurks, Blaise Zabini gets a girlfriend, and Ginny writes a letter.
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, Harry decided to find time to investigate the woman on his own so he has something concrete to launch an official investigation.]
Over the next two weeks, Harry repeatedly asked himself if deciding to investigate the mystery woman with the Malfoy baby on his own had been such a great idea. He couldn't do much officially aside from monitoring the Malfoys' movements through the Floo network; direct surveillance was reserved for active investigations. Harry couldn't intercept and screen their owl post, just determine origin and destination. If he'd asked for formal permission to investigate, he could have read the letters and asked the Floo Network Authority for traveller identities.
As it was, he'd learned nothing new so far. Narcissa was awfully busy writing letters to various people -- Harry was surprised to discover that she wrote most frequently to her surviving sister. Andromeda didn't mention this correspondence to Harry during his weekly visits with Teddy, and so he had no choice but to conclude there was nothing strange or unlawful in Narcissa's letters.
Draco wrote no letters, but Harry assumed he did spend a lot of time visiting his former schoolmates: he reckoned the repeated Floo visits to the Goyles, Parkinsons, Notts, Greengrasses, and Zabinis were not Narcissa's.
There were a few trips to public places, but not many -- the house-elves, whose movements were tracked separately by Regulation of Apparition Control for Magical Creatures, seemed to do all the household purchasing. It stood to reason the Malfoys wouldn't show their faces in public; the Death Eater trials were less than a year behind them, and there were still a lot of people angry that not everyone involved with the Death Eaters ended up in Azkaban.
Harry reasoned that if that woman he'd seen did indeed reside in Malfoy Manor, anyone leaving to a public place had to be her, not Narcissa or Draco. So far, he'd been unsuccessful in intercepting her. His other duties made it impossible for him to loiter at his desk and wait for the Floo Network Activation notifier to light up on his board.
Sighing, he returned to the box of Dark artefacts at his feet. Much of what they'd confiscated at Malfoy Manor had gone directly to the Department of Mysteries, but that had still left the Auror Office with several dozen items to catalogue and put into evidence storage.
"Why'd I even take this case? I should have let Dawlish have it," Harry mumbled, picking up a bone-wrought statuette of a naked woman holding a swordfish.
He'd wanted the Malfoy file because he was determined to prove that as an Auror, he could be impartial in any situation -- but every look he sneaked at his board, hoping for a red light to indicate Floo transport from Malfoy Manor to a public location, made him doubt if he really was capable of setting his personal grudges aside.
A red dot began to blink steadily on the board as Harry glanced at it once again.
He dropped the swordfish woman back in the box and pointed his wand at the board, requesting details.
"Let's see here," muttered the irritated voice of the Floo Network wonk on duty. "Two from Malfoy Manor to Hogsmeade train station."
Two people. Malfoy and Narcissa, one of them and Luce, or the mystery woman and Luce? Harry pocketed his wand and rushed off towards the Ministry fireplaces. Five minutes later, he stepped out into the Burrow's sunlit kitchen, startling Mrs Weasley from her crossword puzzle.
"Oh, is it dinner time already?" she exclaimed, glancing at the pots on the stove.
"Don't worry, Mrs Weasley," Harry said, grinning. "I just need to borrow Ginny." He felt absurdly grateful that she assumed he'd come for dinner, even though he hadn't actually done that in months.
"She's studying in the garden, dear." Mrs Weasley turned her attention back to the puzzle book.
"Thanks," Harry said, heading for the door.
Ginny sat in a reclining chair next to the fence, book in her lap, staring at a pair of gnomes bickering over a caterpillar. She noticed Harry and smiled. "You could stand to look less like a man with a giant bee in his bonnet."
"I need your help," Harry said. "Someone just left Malfoy Manor for Hogsmeade, and I think it's that woman we saw." He'd told Ginny about his suspicions, and she'd agreed to help if necessary.
Ginny closed her book and rose. "Good timing," she said. "I've been meaning to get something for Teddy at that new baby shop, anyway."
"How's the studying going?" Harry asked, taking the book from Ginny as she folded the chair and leaned it against the fence. Ginny hadn't been able to return to Hogwarts after Fred's death and was studying at home, with Ministry-appointed instructors visiting to track her progress.
"Don't ask," Ginny said. "N.E.W.T.s are two weeks away, but I think I have to re-take the O.W.L.s."
"What's the worst that could happen?" Harry asked, following Ginny into the kitchen. "You can just try again next year, right?"
"Says the man who never had to take his N.E.W.T.s," Ginny retorted. "Bye, Mum. I'll be back in an hour or two."
"Yes, dear," Mrs Weasley replied without looking up from her puzzle. "See you later, Harry."
As Harry and Ginny departed for Hogsmeade, one of the pots on the stove began to emit low-pitched cries of anguish.
Harry stepped out into the Three Broomsticks Floo chamber, still carrying Ginny's Arithmancy textbook.
"You'll have to find her yourself, if it's her," he said, handing the book back to her. "And then, I dunno, improvise."
Ginny sighed. "If it's her and if she's still here."
"If you can't find her in thirty minutes, I'll pay for Teddy's present."
"Deal," she said. "So you need her name and her relationship to the Malfoys, in a way that won't make her run home and tell them she was questioned."
Harry nodded. He didn't want to risk approaching the woman directly in case she already knew who he was -- she hadn't recognised his face in Diagon Alley, but that wasn't strange for someone who didn't live in wizarding Britain. She probably would've read the paper since then, and if she went home to Malfoy Manor and told them she had run into Harry Potter again, Harry's superiors would hear about it. And then they would likely decide he was harassing the Malfoys unnecessarily and take the case file away from him -- or worse, relegate him to desk duty for the next four years.
"I'll be right behind you," he said. "In case it's Malfoy."
Ginny gave him a look. "I should think I can handle Draco Malfoy, Harry."
"Sorry," Harry said, flushing. So much for using this opportunity to try and get back into Ginny's good graces, then. He watched her stroll away along the high street and pulled on his Invisibility Cloak, then followed.
He spotted her a few blocks away: definitely the woman from before, same hat, same slightly awkward gait, as though she weren't used to wearing heels. Ginny ducked into a side alley and Disapparated, the sound of it swallowed by the bustle of shoppers.
Harry blinked, startled, but then saw Ginny emerging from a shop -- Stella's Baby Heaven, as it happened -- right in front of the mystery woman. Why she was so intent on playing Quidditch professionally, Harry didn't know; she'd make an excellent Auror. He hurried towards the two women, dodging other passersby.
"Lucy, was it?" Ginny was saying as Harry got within hearing distance.
"No, sorry, I mispronounced it last time," said the woman. "It's Luce. Italian."
"Oh, so you're not her mother?"
"I will be Luce's governess when she turns three," the woman said, gazing down at the baby.
"I'm Ginny, by the way," Ginny said. "Ginny Weasley."
"Laura Delamare," the woman said, shaking Ginny's extended hand. "Your family owns that joke shop in Diagon Alley, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, my older brother runs it," Ginny said. "Have you been?"
"Oh, no, I've just passed by, but it looks like a fun place for the children. I'm sure Luce will love it when she is a little bit older."
Harry leaned against a wall away from the foot traffic. He could reach out and touch the pram from here, and he could see Laura Delamare's face clearly enough, veil or not. She didn't seem the least bit nervous, and Harry wondered if he had been the reason for her discomfort last time -- perhaps she had recognised him.
"You said you were going to be her governess when she turned three, right?" Ginny ventured.
"Yes," Laura said. "Luce's mother believes it's important for the child to know me early on -- she probably won't remember me when she's three, but there will be a -- what is the word -- connection."
"Who's her mother?" Ginny asked, studying Luce with a thoughtful expression.
Laura took a quick glance around. "Narcissa Malfoy," she said in a low voice. "I understand the family is somewhat... controversial, yes?"
Ginny whistled. "Oh, wow. I didn't know she'd been pregnant before her husband died. That's really sad."
"Oh, no," Laura said quickly. "Luce is not blood-related to the Malfoys. Lady Narcissa adopted her in Sicily."
"Oh, is that where you're from?" Ginny asked.
Laura shook her head. "Le Havre -- that's in France. My family has been friends with the Malfoys for several generations; they have a home not far from ours."
"My sister-in-law is from France," Ginny said. "She was Fleur Delacour before she married Bill; do you know her?"
"I've heard the name, but I'm afraid we've never met," Laura said, bending down to adjust the baby's blanket. "I was sent to the Salem Witches' Institute when I was quite young, you see."
"No wonder your English is so much better than hers," Ginny remarked with a wry grin.
Laura snorted softly. "No love lost?"
"Nah, Fleur's all right," Ginny said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "Say, do you--"
"Laura!" called a male voice, and Harry whipped around to see Blaise Zabini sauntering towards the two women. "There you are."
"Blaise!" Laura exclaimed breathlessly, her eyes shining beneath the veil. "I'm so sorry, it seems I've lost track of time."
Zabini put a possessive arm around Laura's waist and kissed her a bit too thoroughly for such a public place. "It's all right; I just got in," he said, then nodded to Ginny. "Weasley."
Laura glanced from Zabini to Ginny. "You two know each other?"
Ginny folded her arms across her chest. "More or less."
"We went to the same school," Zabini said, then glanced at his watch. "I hate to break up a party, but the Portkey's waiting, so..."
"Of course," Laura said, bringing the pram round. "Well then, it was nice to meet you, Miss Weasley!"
"You too, and please call me Ginny," Ginny said. "Feel free to come by our place any time; it's called the Burrow."
"Sure, thank you," Laura called over her shoulder, ushered along by Zabini. "I'm going back to Le Havre soon, but I shall try!"
Harry only now realised how tall the woman was; she and Zabini were nearly of a height, and despite his earlier deduction, he could see now that she wasn't wearing high heels at all. In fact, it rather looked like she was wearing men's boots.
A moment later, the pair disappeared around the corner, and Harry tugged at Ginny's sleeve. "It's me," he whispered. "I'll meet you inside."
He backtracked to a nearby alley, made sure neither Zabini nor Laura Delamare were still around, removed his Invisibility Cloak, and walked back out onto the high street. Inside Stella's, Ginny stood next to a large bin full of stuffed animals, choosing between an owl and a unicorn.
"You can teach the owl to write and deliver letters to Mummy," Ginny said. "But Teddy can't really talk yet, so I'm not sure what kind of letters they'd be. Could be good for a laugh, anyway."
"What does the unicorn do?"
"I haven't figured that out yet."
A saleswitch glided up to them. "The unicorn is a toilet training aid. It produces rainbows."
"Produces," Ginny repeated, her tone dubious. "From, you know?"
The saleswitch smiled. "I'm afraid so."
"I think I'll take the owl."
"How old is your little one?" the saleswitch asked, addressing them both.
"Oh, we're not like that," Ginny said. "It's for his godson, who's fourteen months."
The saleswitch looked at Harry, her eyes widening at the sight of his scar. "Oh, my goodness, you're Harry Potter!"
"Guilty as charged," Harry said, smiling thinly. He was really never going to get used to this, was he? "How do you do?"
"Ah, oh, my dear sweet Merlin, it's such an honour -- please pick out anything you like, Mr Potter, anything at all -- it'll be on us, of course!"
"Oh, is that why you said you'd pay for it?" Ginny muttered with a tiny grin, handing the owl to him. "That's cheating, you know."
As they exited the shop, Harry heard the saleswitch yelling for someone to make a 'Harry Potter shops at Stella's' sign.
"Sorry about that," he said. "I really was going to pay for it, you know."
"Don't be silly. I did speak to your mystery woman, remember? The deal was that if we don't find her, you pay."
"Right," Harry said.
"So -- are you satisfied?" Ginny asked as they neared the Three Broomsticks.
"She seemed less... odd this time," Harry said.
The nagging feeling in his gut hadn't gone away even a little, but he had no choice but write it off to paranoia. He'd kept a very close eye on Laura Delamare, and all her words and reactions had seemed genuine, particularly her reaction to Blaise Zabini's appearance. They'd seemed too intimate for people who had only recently met, but Harry supposed they must've known each other before Laura's most recent arrival in England. Bloody posh pure-blood families and their worldwide connections. Some Death Eaters would never be prosecuted due to being sheltered by foreign cousins thrice removed and other such nonsense.
"She seemed really nice. I think she must've recognised you in Diagon Alley and was afraid you'd turn her into a salamander for bumping into you. You know the kind of stuff foreign reporters write."
Harry nodded. Earlier that week, Ron had shown him a clipping from a Spanish newspaper alleging Harry had disbanded the Wizengamot and served as judge, jury, and executioner at all the trials in England's wizarding court. That had been one of the nicer portrayals.
"Thanks, Ginny," he said as they stopped in front of the Three Broomsticks fireplace. "For helping with this."
"Any time. See you, Harry."
"Yeah. Bye." He watched her vanish, then also stepped inside the fireplace. "Ministry of Magic."
He'd only been away from his desk for an hour, but a swarm of memos of varying urgency already flew around it. Harry studiously ignored them as he contacted Immigration Control through his work board.
"Foreigners entering the country in the last three months, please."
"Urgent?" croaked the wizard on the other end.
"Yes," Harry said.
Three seconds later, a scroll flew in, unfolding in front of his face. Harry scanned it -- sure enough, there was Laura Delamare. He consulted the Malfoy file. She'd come three days after their return; it all matched up. Harry would just have to bloody well ignore his intuition this time; he had nothing to hang his suspicions on.
Luce was sitting atop a blanket in the middle of the first-floor drawing room, amusing herself with a crinkly Peppermint Humbugs wrapper. Honestly, two rooms bursting with expensive toys, and this child was content with a bit of coloured paper.
"What are we doing wrong?" Draco wondered, addressing Luce, who ignored him. She was becoming rather adept at telling the difference between people talking to her and at her.
"Mr Blaise Zabini to see you, Young Master," said an elf from the doorway.
"Show him in," Draco said. It had been three days since Blaise had rescued him from Ginny Weasley in Hogsmeade.
Blaise walked in a moment later. The bastard still looked thoroughly amused.
"What brings you here?" Draco asked, motioning at the chair, but Blaise sat down on the floor next to Luce, producing a small multicoloured ball from his pocket and offering it to her.
Luce took the ball in her free hand and studied it with a tiny frown, then grinned up at Blaise and shook the Humbug wrapper at him.
"I think that means she accepts the offering," Blaise remarked.
Draco joined them on the floor, feeling absurdly jealous of Luce smiling at someone else.
Blaise leaned closer to him. "What, no kiss? And here I thought you were my girlfriend, my precious Laura."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Come on, Zabini; we're not at Hogwarts anymore. What happened in Hogsmeade was your idea."
Blaise grinned. "And what happened after Hogsmeade?"
"A one-off," Draco said, trying his best not to flush.
"Don't be like that," Blaise said, leaning in to kiss him.
Draco let him, briefly, then pulled away. "I'm supposed to be looking for a bride, you know."
"Aren't we all? Speaking of which, my mother's got her eye on Daphne's younger sister."
Draco laughed. "So does my mother."
"Well, that could get awkward, couldn't it," Blaise said, studying Luce. "It's a bit of a shame, isn't it, the way we do these things."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, the girl -- I think her name's Astoria? -- won't really have a choice in the end, will she? Choose between the Malfoy boy, the Zabini boy, and the Nott boy; that's not a choice."
"How so? We're three different people."
"What if she wants a Weasley or a Longbottom?"
Draco snorted. "What in the world would a well-bred girl like Astoria Greengrass want with a Weasley or a Longbottom for a husband?"
"See, there's another thing. Well-bred. What is she, a dragon?"
"Same kind of well-bred as you and me, Zabini," said Draco, irritated. What was Blaise getting at?
"So when Luce grows up, you won't care what she wants? You'll just tell her, here are some men, choose one for a husband? What if she has a man she loves?"
"She's not going to be raised in a way that makes her want things that are bad for her. We all had our liaisons at Hogwarts, Blaise. Marriage is political. I think you've been spending far too much time with your new Muggle-born friends." Blaise had entered Obliviator training a few months ago -- by what miracle he'd managed to secure a spot despite his mother's Death Eater ties, Draco still didn't know.
"Maybe so," Blaise said. "But my Muggle-born friends won the war, didn't they? How long are we going to be able to keep doing things our way?"
Draco squinted at him. "Have you been talking to my mother?"
"Oh, so there is someone still left in this stately mansion to steer you right," Blaise said to Luce. "Listen to your mother, little girl. Your brother's a dangerous radical."
Draco sighed. "You're really annoying."
"I know, but I have a love letter for you, so you'll forgive me."
Blaise reached into his inside pocket and brought out two pieces of parchment-- one sealed, one opened. "Have a look."
I realise this is an unusual request, but I'd like you to pass the other envelope to Laura, if you could. I'm sure you understand I have reasons not to send an owl directly to Malfoy Manor. Thank you in advance.
Draco set the parchment aside and unsealed the other one.
I was hoping you could meet me for a drink at the Three Broomsticks (in Hogsmeade) next Saturday around seven. I've got something I would like to talk to you about. Please ask Zabini to pass your reply along.
Love from Ginny
"What a difference in tone," Blaise remarked, reading over Draco's shoulder. "I'm heartbroken."
"This is interesting," Draco said. "She has reasons not to send it directly -- because of the surveillance? What could Little Miss Ginny Weasley be up to that she doesn't want the Ministry to know?"
"Ministry? Sounds like she doesn't want her boyfriend to know," Blaise said, still leaning against Draco. "Didn't you say he had your case file?"
Luce picked up the first letter and began waving it around, gurgling happily.
"Your sister approves."
"Of your impending nuptials to Ginny Weasley, of course."
"Don't be ridiculous -- how do you get nuptials from this? She's not asking me out; she's asking Laura out."
Blaise was partially right, though; this was practically proof positive that Ginny and Potter were not quite as blissfully together as all the papers sang. Draco had considered the idea of going after Ginny, very briefly, but he hadn't very well stood a chance against wizarding Britain's Most Eligible Git of a Bachelor, not with his past. But this…
What would Draco's mother say if he chose to court Ginny? How many doors would suddenly swing open if Draco chose this pure-blood girl as his bride? Marriage was political, but Ginny Weasley was also really hot, not to mention brilliant at Quidditch. Besides, taking her away from Potter sounded like it would feel really fucking good.
"I can't court her if I'm Laura," Draco said, half to himself. "Even if it turns out Ginny's into girls, Laura lacks some important body parts."
Blaise pulled him closer. "I like your body parts."
"You are a dog, Zabini," Draco said with a sigh, relaxing into the embrace.
Wasn't he just getting caught up in some scheme of Zabini's? Perhaps the sexual advances and indifference towards Astoria were smokescreens; who was to say Blaise wasn't just trying to eliminate the competition? If there was anything the two of them had in common, it was that they would go to any lengths to earn their mothers' praise.
...accept the invitation and meet with Ginny as Laura.
...accept the invitation on behalf of Laura, but show up as Draco and explain that Laura had to go home unexpectedly early.
...decline the invitation politely in writing, as Laura.
...ignore the invitation completely.
...investigate the shrubbery.
[II. Artefacts | ToC | VI. Afterthoughts]