Chapter: IV. Afterthoughts
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: PG
Chapter Warnings: Alcohol abuse
Chapter Length: 3800
Chapter Summary: Draco ponders blowing his own cover, Hermione says never mind the Malfoys, and Ginny takes a long-distance trip.
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 accept the invitation and meet with Ginny as Laura.]
Draco had never been to the Three Broomsticks outside Hogsmeade weekend activities, so it was a surprise to find the place nearly empty. A trio of warlocks carried on a spirited game of Exploding Snap in the furthest corner; across from them, an elderly witch sat knitting the longest fuchsia scarf in the world. Ginny was at the bar, chatting with Madam Rosmerta.
The bell above the door tinkled as Draco walked through, and Ginny turned around, waving when she saw him. Draco wondered what her reaction might have been had he not donned his Laura costume for the evening. As it was, he smiled and returned the wave, then joined Ginny by the bar.
"Have you tried Butterbeer?" Ginny asked, gesturing at her drink.
"The grown-up version," Madam Rosmerta supplied with a wink. "How do you do? I'm Rosmerta."
"Laura Delamare," Draco said, extending a hand. "Laura is fine, and I would love some Butterbeer."
He actually hated Butterbeer, but he'd never tried the grown-up version before. Rosmerta set a nicely-topped tankard of it in front of him and walked off to the other end of the bar, demonstratively paying no attention to Laura's reaction.
Grown-up Butterbeer was just as foully common as the regular kind, except it packed a fairly impressive kick. Draco set the mug down and applied a serviette to his lips. "Quite a unique taste," he remarked. "What's it made out of?"
"I think it's a secret," Ginny said. "Not your favourite, though, is it?"
"It's not bad, though I am a bit of an elderflower wine fanatic," Draco said. "So my tastes are somewhat conservative, you could say."
"Thanks for coming," Ginny said. "I wasn't sure you would, with all this cloak-and-dagger stuff."
"Oh, not at all," Draco chirped. "It's really a relief to get away from Malfoy Manor for a bit -- I adore Lady Narcissa, but she's quite busy with the baby, and her son is rather tiresome."
"That's a nice way of putting it," Ginny said, gazing into her tankard. "How much longer are you staying with the Malfoys?"
Draco, who had been expecting something a bit more derisive, or at least detailed, felt caught off-guard. "Er, ah, I am due to return to Le Havre at the end of next week." Seriously, didn't he rate even a mini-rant? He'd thought so long and hard over how to clearly get it across that Laura and Draco didn't get along, and instead of the expletives he'd expected, there was just this vast indifference. It was bloody unfair.
"Any plans for the summer?" Ginny asked.
Draco wondered if he should invent some summer activity that involved Draco Malfoy, but didn't want to push his luck. "Nothing in particular, though my parents are talking about going to a hot spring tour in Eastern Europe. I might join them if I've got nothing better."
"That sounds really nice. What do you do, by the way -- when you're not a governess, I mean?"
"Oh, I don't really have a thing I do. I'm Luce's governess because Lady Narcissa asked and because I'd like to be," Draco said. "My father doesn't believe women should work if they don't need to."
"You're okay with that?" Ginny asked.
Draco considered this for a moment, and decided to go with the truth. "I think anyone who doesn't need to work ought not to. There's no point earning money you don't need, surely."
"Never thought about it that way," Ginny said. "But I guess I can see it -- if you don't need money, the job you don't take might go to someone who does need it."
Draco had never thought about it that way, but as long as Ginny wasn't outraged, Laura -- and, eventually, Draco, if all went according to his plans -- was ahead of the game. "Something like that," he mumbled into his tankard. "So, I don't mean to rush you, but your letter--"
"Oh, yes." Ginny finished her Butterbeer in a single swig and turned to him. "Are you into Quidditch at all?"
That was not a question Draco had anticipated, and he almost blurted out the truth -- but stopped just in time. Laura Delamare was a refined young woman raised by an overbearing father with strict ideas about a woman's place in society. For her to be into any kind of team sport -- especially one as male-dominated as Quidditch -- would be a bit strange.
"I can't say I'm a big fan," he said. "I know some famous player names, but that's really about it. Everyone at school was more into Quodpot, anyway."
Ginny looked disappointed. "So you haven't heard of the Salem Strikers?"
"Oh, I do know about them, of course," Draco said. "The American team formed two years ago that won't take male players, right?"
"Yeah. Like the Holyhead Harpies."
Draco blinked in feigned puzzlement. "Who?"
"They're the original all-woman team," Ginny said with obvious pride. "From Wales."
"Oh, I hadn't realised," Draco said. "The way everyone carried on about the Strikers tearing up the rankings back in the States, I had assumed they were revolutionary or something."
"No, not so much," Ginny said, grinning. "The Harpies were founded in 1203."
"Wow, so not very novel at all, then," Draco said. "Not that I'm surprised. Bloody Americans always act like they were the first to think of everything." After a pause and a perfunctory sip of his foul beverage, he added, "You're interested in Quidditch, I'm assuming."
"Yeah," Ginny said. "I want to play professional Quidditch. That's why I wanted to talk to you." She sighed. "I was thinking, since you went to school in Salem, you might know someone who could put me in touch with the team management."
"Why not the Holyhead Harpies?"
"They don't take amateurs," Ginny said. "They want at least two years' experience with a professional team before they even consider interviewing you. I don't really like playing on men's or mixed teams, so I thought I could try my luck with the Strikers..."
Draco perked up. Ginny didn't like playing on mixed teams? That was an interesting tidbit. "Why not the mixed teams?" he asked.
"It's a principle thing, really," Ginny said. "For example, England's national team has female Beaters but it's only because they want to look good to the world -- like, ooh, look at us, we're so equality-minded, our Beaters are women. But if you look at most of the local teams, there are very few women Beaters. And nearly all of them are bigger women. Never mind that Gwenog Jones -- she's the Holyhead Harpies captain -- is half the size of an average male Beater but she's a much better player than most of them, at least in this country."
"And you want to play Beater," Draco guessed. Ginny was an accomplished Chaser and a decent Seeker; he had never even thought someone with her build would want a Beater position.
"Yeah," Ginny said. "I've thought up so many play strategies for teams with smaller Beaters -- plays that could really make the game more fun, but--" She stopped abruptly. "Sorry, I don't mean to natter on."
Draco shook his head. "No, I think I understand. Look, I'm sorry I can't help right away, but why don't you let me make some inquiries with friends from school? Salem is not a very large city even by Muggle standards, and by wizarding standards it's no bigger than this village. I'm bound to know a friend of a friend of someone important."
The words were out before he realised what he was committing to, and by the time he regretted it, Ginny's face had lit up with brand new hope.
Well, then. It was true enough that a Malfoy was bound to know a friend of a friend of someone important, Draco supposed.
They chatted aimlessly for another twenty minutes, and then Draco made an excuse to leave. He was actually a bit excited to find out whether Malfoy connections extended as far as North America -- and if not, to extend those connections by himself. Also, the idea of being instrumental in furthering Ginny's professional Quidditch career was appealing on just about every possible level.
He had meant to keep up the Laura charade long enough to win Ginny's trust and affection, only to reveal that Laura was actually Draco struck with a hopeless, unrequited, long-time love for Ginny. Judging from the popularity of certain WWN shows, most people ate that kind of thing right up, and Draco was sure Ginny would be no different. Yeah, it would be messy, but he was sure it would work out.
And none of that had to change, but if Laura could be of actual use to Ginny, that would make things go even smoother later on.
The N.E.W.T.s were days away, and Ginny increasingly felt like she was going to fail miserably. School had never been an end in itself to her, the way it was for Hermione; she did well enough in her classes, but Quidditch was her real passion, and she didn't see why she would ever need to know who said what to whom during such-and-such Wizengamot session eleventy billion years ago.
She gazed up at her poster of Gwenog Jones and wondered if she should start sending her CV out to teams as soon as the N.E.W.T.s were over. Even if she didn't pass, someone might take her on provisionally. That was doubtful, though, since she hadn't played on a team in the last two years -- one because of Death Eaters holding Hogwarts hostage and another because she hadn't been able to bring herself to go to Hogwarts in the first place. She missed Fred enough without having to look at the faces of his old friends.
"Pull yourself together," she muttered. This whole Salem Strikers thing had been such a long shot, anyway.
A knock at her window startled her, and Ginny whirled to find an official Wizarding Post owl -- meaning an international delivery! -- tapping on the glass. Ginny's heart raced as she unlatched the window and took the owl's letter.
How are you? I have been back in Le Havre for two weeks now. The weather has been treating us quite well, and I hope it's the same for you. I think it will be a beautiful summer, and I've decided to join my parents on that trip to Eastern Europe I've told you about.
I'm sorry it took me so long to contact you -- Transatlantic Post can be quite slow -- but I do have some good news. It turned out that a close friend of a classmate's of mine is the godfather of the Strikers' manager's twin sons; I was really quite surprised as they're not even from Massachusetts.
I'll get to the point, however: I found out that one of the Strikers' permanent reserve Beaters is retiring to start a family at the end of the current season, and they've been looking for a replacement since last month. My classmate asked his friend to put in a word for you, and the manager has agreed to consider you a potential candidate; she will be expecting your CV over the next few weeks. Her name is Priya Malakar, and her direct address is on the enclosed postcard.
Best of luck! I will be out of reach for the rest of the summer, but if you write to this address, I'll be sure to reply upon my return.
Love from Laura Delamare
P.S. My classmate's friend's name is Adalbert Coury -- be sure you mention his name and not mine in your introductory letter.
"So how do you think you did?" Hermione asked.
The two of them were resting beneath a tree on the school grounds. The N.E.W.T.s were over; Ginny's Portkey was two hours away, and it was actually kind of nice out here. Even being inside the school hadn't been as awful as she'd feared; maybe time and distance did have healing properties. She had so many good memories of this place -- far more good than bad.
"I am not playing that game," she said to Hermione. "I'll just be miserable if I dwell on what I might have got wrong; there's no point, is there?"
"In that, you are remarkably like Ron," Hermione groused, flipping over onto her back. "Did you see him before you left home this morning?"
"No, he slept at work again. He and Harry got so drunk at an office party last week that I think they'll be on penalty duty for the next six months," Ginny said, trying not to sound too amused. "I'm told Ron's job is to clean up every last Dormouse dropping in a file room as big as the Great Hall."
Hermione laughed. "This was why I always told them they needed to finish school properly before they went off pretending to be adults," she said. "Anyway, won't you stay until Wednesday? That's only two days, and then we could go back together."
"Can't," Ginny said. "I'm expecting a really important letter at home, and I want to make sure I get it right away."
"Couldn't you ask your mum to forward it as soon as it gets there?"
Ginny shook her head. "Too important. Plus, I kind of hope to get it before Mum's had a chance to see where it's from."
Hermione turned onto her side again and propped her head up with one arm. "Oh? And where is that?"
Ginny hadn't told anyone about sending her CV to America; she actually felt really guilty that a near-stranger like Laura was privy to it when even her best friend wasn't. She'd decided she didn't want to distract Hermione with this during N.E.W.T. preparation, but that was over now. She took a deep breath. "America. I sent my CV to the Strikers' manager last week, and Wizarding Post notified me two days ago that a reply was on its way already."
Hermione's eyes went wide. "Oh, Ginny, that's brilliant!"
"Maybe it's a thanks-but-no-thanks kind of thing," Ginny said. "I don't want to get too excited."
"Oh, but you must be! How did you manage to get in contact?"
"I met a Frenchwoman in Diagon Alley -- governess for the Malfoys' new baby--"
"The Malfoys' new what?"
"Oh, hasn't Ron told you? Narcissa Malfoy adopted a baby in Italy or Spain or whatever. Anyway, this woman told me she went to school in Salem, so I asked her about the Strikers over drinks one day. She ended up knowing a friend of a distant cousin or something, and got them to consider my application."
"To think that someone connected to the Malfoys would be so nice to you," Hermione said, her eyes slightly narrowed.
Ginny winced. "She was all right, actually, not like the ancient pure-blood sort at all. Harry was suspicious of her at first and even got me to help investigate her, but she was cool; it's a long story. I don't think she even knows what kind of people they are, though."
"Oh, all right, never mind the bloody Malfoys. Have you told Harry about the letter yet?" Then Hermione clapped a hand over her mouth. "I mean -- you know. I don't mean to imply--"
"No, it's fine," Ginny said, waving a hand. The Harry situation had been one of the furthest things from her mind lately, and she wondered what that meant. It wasn't that she didn't love him any more, but she definitely wasn't as in love with him as before. She pushed the thoughts away. It would work out somehow. "I haven't told him yet, but I should."
They spent the rest of the afternoon underneath the tree. Hermione caught Ginny up on all the latest happenings in Hogwarts -- Peeves had got into the Headmistress's office somehow and defaced every portrait in sight, so he was banished to the kitchens for ten years; Romilda Vane won some kind of international contest and was going to be the next face of Sweet Belladonna Cosmetics; Cho Chang of all people was going to replace Professor Flitwick in two years. By the time Ginny took the Portkey home, she almost felt as though she hadn't missed a thing by studying at home all year.
Ginny walked into the Burrow's kitchen to find her mother bent over her crossword puzzles, which meant she'd been drinking again. Sure enough, the cooking sherry bottle on the countertop was empty; it had been full when Ginny had left that morning. No dish she knew of required that much sherry.
"Mum," Ginny said. "I'm back."
"That's nice, sweetie. Your father's coming home early today, so dinner will be ready in just a bit."
"Aren't you going to ask me how I did?" Ginny asked, trying her best to keep the bitter edge off her voice. But it was a bitter question, so maybe she shouldn't have bothered.
Molly looked up from the puzzle, her eyes wet and unfocussed, her smile lopsided. "What did you do?"
"The N.E.W.T.s, Mum. They were today."
Her mother's watery smile widened. "That's nice, sweetie. Your father's coming home early today, so--"
"Oh, never mind," Ginny said. "I'll help with dinner, just let me change."
It took all of her willpower not to slam the door to her room. She knew she had no right to get angry. She'd lost a brother; it was awful, but not as bad as losing a son. Ginny might've taken up drinking too if she'd been forcibly sent to Hogwarts, who knew? Still, she wanted her mother back.
She'd lied so easily to Hermione earlier -- hope to get it before Mum's had a chance to see where it's from -- and she wished so badly for it to be true. She wished her mother would stomp into her room, hands on her hips, and demand to know why Ginny was receiving owl post from American Quidditch teams. Instead, Ginny was more worried that her mother might absentmindedly throw the letter into the chicken coop or use it as a bit of kindling.
Her mother did her best to keep the drinking secret from everyone, including her other children, but none of them lived at home any more. Dad knew, but didn't know what to do; he would just sit next to her and pat her unresponsive back and gaze at her helplessly. Ginny was the only one who'd tried to stop it, once, binning all the alcohol in the house. Molly had spent four days weeping, and then she'd gone and bought more, stashing it somewhere Ginny still couldn't find.
Ginny sank down into her bed and put her forearm over her eyes. What if she made Mum go to St. Mungo's? Didn't they offer rehabilitation services of some sort? Neville was in training there; maybe Ginny could ask him. But if she did that, people might talk, and the press might get wind of it -- that awful Skeeter woman for one would surely love to do a centrefold piece on Molly "Not My Daughter, You Bitch!" Weasley falling utterly to pieces after the war.
There was movement at her open window: another official owl, this one with blue Express Delivery ribbons attached to its wings. Ginny scrambled off the bed and took the stiffly rolled parchment, her hand trembling.
Dear Miss Weasley,
Thank you for your interest in the permanent reserve Beater position with the Salem Strikers. The team's manager has reviewed your application and found your qualifications adequate for further consideration. We would like you to appear for an in-person interview and fitness assessment on Friday, July the 9th.
Please request express service when replying at your Wizarding Post office. Should your reply be favourable, the team will of course cover your travel and lodging expenses for the duration of your stay in the United States for the purposes of this interview. Once we receive your reply, we will be in touch regarding details & logistics.
Annabelle Stewart on behalf of Team Manager Mrs Priya Malakar.
July ninth was less than two weeks away! Ginny knew this was just an interview and it didn't mean anything yet -- but still, an interview! She could've kissed Laura Delamare at that moment.
"Your physical condition is not outstanding, but it's above average -- I was surprised, to be honest, since you say you haven't played in two years due to the war."
Priya Malakar was a striking woman, so tall she was imposing even when seated at her desk. Ginny felt ridiculously tiny and inadequate in her comfortable plush chair. This was it: the performance review. She'd spent all day in tests of physical strength and stamina, mental health assessments, and then a written examination on strategy. She was exhausted and wanted a hot bath, then a soft bed, but under Malakar's steady gaze, those desires wilted and made her want to sit up straighter and be more confident and conquer the entire world.
"What I'm impressed with are the plays you came up with during the written test -- all of them are wrong, of course, as in, not by the book, but if the Strikers cared about the damn book, we wouldn't exist in the first place. Using speedy Beaters as decoys is not unheard of, certainly, but the offensive formation with Beaters in the lead could win six matches in a row before people figured out what we were doing."
Praise had not been the reaction Ginny was expecting; she'd been so sure that she'd bollocksed up her stamina tests -- not to mention revealed some unknown embarrassing things during the mental health part -- that she'd pretty much stopped trying by the time of the strategy exam.
"I'm honestly sorry I can't offer you a regular position, because I think you'd be amazing, but please consider that a reserve player does as much if not more training than the regulars."
"Wait, Mrs Malakar--"
"Priya's fine; everyone calls me that. Go ahead?"
"Are... are you saying you'd like me on the team?"
"Of course I do; I'd be ridiculously stupid not to snap you right up. You're going to be a star, maybe even a captain one day. I understand we're a stepping stone to the Harpies for you -- don't even think about denying it; everyone on this team wants to play for the Harpies -- but we'll have you first if you'll let us." Priya pushed the thick file in front of her closer to Ginny. "This is a four-year contract. All you have to do is read, initial, and sign."
Ginny stared at the file in stunned disbelief. She wanted to grab the thing and flip to the last page and sign it sight unseen, but -- what would become of her mother, all alone in the house? What about her friends? And Harry?
Could she really up and move halfway across the world for four years? What if she couldn't handle it? What if she had to play in a real game and messed up?
...accept the offer on the spot.
...ask for some time to think about it over the weekend, without returning home.
...ask for some time to think about it while she returns home and discusses it with her family.
... reject the offer.
...investigate the shrubbery.
[III. Laura | ToC | V. Lorenzo's]