And now, for the HP fic portion of today's broadcast. Because I have a lot of stuff to do (+ other fic to write) over the holidays, this is the last Ascension update for this year; the story will continue on January 03, 2011.
Title: Ascension [ToC]
Chapter: VII. Ignition
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Chapter Warnings: Non-explicit description of a burn injury.
Chapter Length: 4000 words
Chapter Summary: Draco has a cunning plan, Artie has a bit of a wander, Harry has a notebook, Ginny has a bad feeling, and kink has no logic.
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 offer [Harry] the information [about Laura] in exchange for something else.]
Draco folded his arms and favoured Potter with a suspicious look. "What possible personal business could someone like you have with a friend of the Malfoy family?"
Potter scowled. "That's personal, obviously. I wouldn't be asking if it weren't."
"So you want me to do you a personal favour? Is that how I'm supposed to read this situation?"
"I don't want you in particular to do me that favour," Potter said. "But yeah, I guess so."
"And what will you give me in return for doing you this favour, Potter?"
The Kneazle gave a low, guttural growl. It was still a cub; Potter must've been carrying it around to bond with it -- a necessary part of any wizard-Kneazle relationship; it was the reason they'd opted for the panther-dog for Luce, who was too young to bond with a Kneazle properly. Cub or not, the Kneazle would be able to detect if Draco told an outright lie, so he had to be very careful. For all he knew Potter didn't even know about bonding and had brought the animal as a makeshift lie-detector.
"In return," Potter repeated.
"Yes, Potter, out here in the real world, civilised people re-pay each other's kindnesses, see."
Potter's eyes narrowed. "I'm guessing there's something in particular you'd like, then."
The Kneazle's tail swung back and forth in front of Potter's crotch. Draco had a shameful weakness for denim on men, quintessentially Muggle though it was, and although Potter was too scrawny for Draco's liking, the jeans rode his hips in a way that gently nudged at Draco's buttons in various inappropriate ways. He looked aside quickly, horrified that he was thinking of Harry sodding Potter in this way. What's wrong with you? It's not like you lack entertainment on that front, you prat.
"Yeah," he said, wondering if he should ask for a favour of a sexual nature, if only to see the look on Potter's face. But he didn't have a wizarding camera nearby, and besides, he didn't particularly want Potter to make a face he'd remember. "I want you to lift the travel restriction from our sentence."
"I can't do that," Potter said immediately. "The Wizengamot wouldn't grant that even if you were cooperating in an investigation, let alone as a personal favour."
Draco shrugged. "Suit yourself," he said. "There's nothing you've got that I haven't, so."
"I'm sure your mother will be more co-operative when I do catch her at home," Potter said. The smugness of his tone clawed at Draco's insides.
"Do you really think she'll tell you anything if I ask her not to?" Draco asked. "You forget yourself, Potter. You think just because she saved your miserable life, she's one of your little hangers-on now?"
Potter, who had turned to leave, faced Draco again. The Kneazle mewled, a restless sound. So Potter was getting agitated, too. Good. Draco couldn't believe the cheek of the fucking wanker, acting like Narcissa Malfoy was his fail-safe back-up.
"You hate this, don't you?" Draco asked. "You need something from me, and you can't just force me to give it to you--"
A mercifully brief but vivid image of himself giving it to Potter in an entirely different way flashed in Draco's mind, and a heat so harsh flooded his face that he had to look away. I repeat: what the fuck is wrong with you?
He now wanted Potter gone from his sight as soon as possible, so he muttered, "Why don't we say you owe me a favour, then. A small one, since it's a small thing."
"Fine," Potter said. Draco didn't dare look up to see how Potter was reacting to his burning face.
"Laura's going to be here next week for a few days, and I'll make sure she contacts you," Draco said, carefully choosing his words for the Kneazle's benefit. As long as he thought of himself as "Laura" when he mentioned her, he didn't think the animal would sense anything amiss. "I don't believe her family would appreciate me giving out their Unplottable address to foreign authorities." He held his breath. The Kneazle sat in Potter's arms, motionless, studying Dorsey's squeaky bone toy on the floor.
"I look forward to it," Potter said, and walked out. The jeans didn't flatter his backside at all, Draco was very pleased to observe. Really, what had come over him?
The house-elves had put Luce down for a nap in the meantime, and Draco retired to his father's study to write a coded letter to Lawrence Spiwak -- a long-time admirer of his mother's who rode a desk at the Ministry's Immigration Control -- requesting that the name Laura Delamare appear in entry records for Tuesday of next week, and in the exit records for Sunday. Spiwak had doctored the paperwork for him back when Draco had panicked after Laura ran into Potter in Diagon Alley, and he'd promised to do what he could in the future as long as Draco put in a good word with Narcissa for him.
After the owl had gone, Draco sank back into his father's chair and hoisted his legs up on the desk, thinking. He could guess easily enough that Potter had somehow found out that Laura had helped Ginny get the Salem Strikers contract and wanted -- what? To make sure Laura, friend of a Death Eater family that she was, didn't have any ill intentions towards Potter's precious girlfriend? If she was still his girlfriend, that was. Ginny's letter of effusive thanks hadn't mentioned Potter even obliquely, but she and Laura hadn't had a chance to become close yet. That would come later.
If only Potter had been able to lift the travel restrictions! Draco's most optimistic plan involved his family pretending to move to France while actually moving to Salem. Laura would look after Luce while Narcissa travelled around, and they'd tell Ginny that Draco had stayed behind in France. If Ginny forged relationships with his mother and sister, it would make it that much easier for her to forgive poor love-sick Draco when he finally admitted to being Laura. It would have been perfect.
Draco would continue trying to find a way to get around the travel restrictions, but in the meantime he couldn't just sit and wait. Potter's interest in Laura, however idle, was a potentially significant drawback, though. Draco would need to think very carefully about how to handle the situation. But he'd been so unsettled by his... unorthodox reactions to Potter earlier that he decided he'd put a day between the encounter and planning his next move. He didn't want to think about Potter again today.
By the time Narcissa returned from her visit with Andromeda, Luce had awoken and been fed, and the three of them spent the evening teaching Dorsey to fetch. Luce was particularly good at it, and Draco wasn't sure if it wasn't actually Dorsey who was teaching Luce to fling her toys about.
It was Draco's turn to supervise bath time, and, after checking the water temperature, he sat cross-legged atop the laundry cabinet and watched the house-elves keenly. Dorsey curled up on the floor below him, eyeing the wash-basin warily, probably still remembering her experience from that morning. Neither Luce nor her puppy were big fans of getting wet, but whereas Dorsey was quite stoic about it, Luce wept so bitterly Draco could barely stand it.
He began to think about doing some research into using magic instead of water on babies when Dorsey leapt to her feet and let out a screeching howl. Luce's voice rose higher as if in competition, and then the two elves who'd been bathing her uttered small cries of shock as the water in the basin began to boil.
Draco was stunned for a perfectly frozen moment amid the cacophony of Dorsey's continued howling and Luce's frantic wails of pain. A blister welled up on her hand, and Draco whipped out his wand with a shout of Evanesco!, getting rid of the water. Luce's whole tiny body save for her head had turned a malevolent pink; she was shivering, crying in great ragged, low-pitched sobs as Draco cast cooling and cushioning charms, then an immobilising charm to keep her from moving around. She was very badly burned; Draco didn't know the first thing about treating injuries, but he knew he didn't have a second to waste in getting her to St. Mungo's.
"Wrap her up while I levitate her," he barked at the elves, who practically flew towards Luce at the command.
Narcissa appeared in the doorway. "I heard Dorsey--" Her hands flew to her mouth as she stumbled at the sight of Luce. "What-- what happened? Draco? Mindy? Shelly?"
"I think her magic awakened," Draco said. He was so scared that his teeth were chattering. "One minute she was in the bath, next thing you know, Dorsey starts howling and the water's boiling around her."
The elves had wrapped the baby up so that only her face was visible. Narcissa cradled Luce close and tore out of the bathroom. Draco, Dorsey, and the elves pelted after her.
"Was the water too cold?" Narcissa asked as they rushed to the fireplace. She wore only a nightgown.
"No, I checked it myself," Draco said, summoning a cloak for her. "I think she was more upset than usual because we made her stop playing with Dorsey to have her bath." He stepped into the fireplace after his mother. "No, Dorsey, you stay home. Hold her back, Shelly."
"St. Mungo's!" Narcissa cried, shrugging into the cloak.
Thanks to whatever deities, there was no one at the reception desk save the welcome-witch, who directed them to Spell Damage on the fourth floor. As Draco followed his mother to the stairs, he glimpsed Molly Weasley entering a small office near the signboard, followed by Neville Longbottom and a wrinkled old Mediwizard. Longbottom looked around at Luce's plaintive cries, and Draco scowled at him.
Once they reached the ward, a Mediwitch took Luce away, leaving Draco and Narcissa alone in the empty portrait-lined hallway. Draco drew air deep into his lungs and expelled a sigh, wishing he could feel relieved, but Luce's scrunched-up little face filled his mind, her wails still echoing in his ears.
Narcissa leaned against a wall, causing the moustachioed wizard in the nearby portrait to lean close to the edge of the frame as though trying to peer through it. "A-at least now we know she's not a S-s-squib," she choked, shivering.
"Dorsey howled," Draco said. "I should have known right then -- the panther-dogs are sensitive to magic, aren't they--"
"Stop it, Draco, it wasn't your fault," Narcissa said sharply. "It will be years before Dorsey learns to warn of harmful magic properly."
Draco hung his head, unwilling to meet her eyes. What she said didn't change facts. Had he reacted as soon as Dorsey began to howl, Luce may not have got scalded at all.
Fifteen minutes passed before the Mediwitch returned. "You got her here just in time," she said. "There will be no scarring. What on earth happened?"
"Wild magic," Narcissa said. "Boiled her own bath-water. I need to see her."
"Yes, of course, Mrs... ah... Malfoy. We're going to have to keep her here for a couple of days to treat the burn damage--"
"I'll stay with her," Narcissa said.
Draco wanted to say he'd do it, but Luce was still being breastfed, and he would be rather hopeless in that department. "I'll bring your things, Mother," he said instead.
Harry looked out the open sitting room window for the millionth time, but Artie was still nowhere to be seen. Not that Harry'd be able to see anything with how dark it was.
The Kneazle had taken off right after they'd got back from Malfoy Manor -- he wanted to explore and roam around as much as possible while he still looked like a normal-sized cat. Once Artie grew to full size, he'd be too conspicuous amongst Muggles.
Harry had not protested; the handbook had been very clear that Kneazles were even more independent than regular cats, and they took curtailment of their freedom as a sign of deep mistrust. A proper bond wouldn't form if the animal felt his owner distrusted him.
Still, he was beginning to worry. Artie talked big, but he'd been intimidated by a pair of gnomes. What would happen if he were accosted by a couple of bored Muggles? Harry wouldn't even know he was in trouble. The handbook had said that owner and Kneazle would feel each other's distress through the bond eventually, but Harry doubted that "eventually" meant "less than two weeks". But if he went searching, Artie might take it badly.
An owl landed on the window.
Narcissa Malfoy checked into Spell Damage ward with Luce Marino. Baby severely burned w/ immersion scald. NM says wild magic; no evidence of abuse apparent.
--Ernestine Skerritt, St. Mungo's Overseer for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Harry winced, thinking about the happy, smiling baby he'd met. As much as he distrusted the Malfoys -- Draco in particular -- there was no way they were abusing Luce. He'd never think it of Narcissa in the first place, but the couple of times he'd seen Draco with the child, it was obvious he cared for her. The first time Harry had seen the two of them from the cellar stairwell, he'd been temporarily speechless at the open, honest smile on Malfoy's face.
He folded the note into a memo, addressed it to his desk at the Auror Office, and gave it back to the owl. "Take this to the Ministry, please."
He knew that Skerritt was just being thorough by notifying him immediately since the matter involved the Malfoys, but he really hadn't wanted to end his evening on such a sad note.
"You shouldn't let work follow you home, it's bad for your mental stability," Artie observed from the doorway.
"When did you get back in?"
"About an hour ago," Artie said, trotting inside and curling up next to Harry's feet. "I had dinner and a nap downstairs."
"Good for you," Harry said. He pulled his notebook closer and picked up the Self-Inking quill from the coffee table. "What did you do?"
"I sneaked into a library and found a book with letters," Artie said. "Buy it for me so I can learn to read."
"You can't buy books from the library," Harry said. "Only borrow. But I'll buy you one at a shop."
"Isn't a library a shop?"
"Not really. Shops are places where things are sold. Libraries are places were books are borrowed."
Kneazles had a peculiar way of looking at the world: they weren't very good at gradations of meaning and tended to see things as true or false. Once they learned a fact, they assumed it applied universally to all things, and it was difficult to change their minds. With Artie's ability to communicate with humans, it'd be easier to teach him new things, but the things he'd learned wrongly were going to take forever to un-learn, Harry was discovering.
Artie fluffed his tail. "Only books? Why not broomsticks?"
"Not at the library," Harry said. "But there are broomstick rental shops."
Artie perked up at the word, and Harry resisted planting his face in his palm.
"So they're still shops," Artie opined, just as expected. "Since it's a shop, you can buy a broomstick there. Then you can buy a book in a library."
Harry sighed. "It's a little more complicated than that, Artie. Anyway, I'll buy you an alphabet book tomorrow, okay?"
"I want the one from the library."
"I'll find out which one it is."
Artie rolled over onto his back and sunk his forepaw claws into the sofa. "Guess you want to know about the blond bloke from this morning, huh?"
"If you don't mind," Harry said.
"He wants to boink you, you know."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Be serious, Artie."
"I am serious. He was practically glowing with it. Humans are so unobservant."
Malfoy had flushed a deep pink near the end of their conversation, but that had just been anger, obviously. Harry didn't even want to imagine how Artie had learned all this stuff about lesbians and boinking in the Magical Menagerie.
The front door slammed open, and Harry was so startled he dropped his quill. Artie immediately attacked it with all fours, lost to the world.
"Ron, please just calm down," Hermione called as Ron stomped into the sitting room, looking furious.
"Did you know about it?" he demanded, waving a piece of parchment at Harry.
Harry, who had -- out of a rather petty sense of revenge for keeping the Ginny news from him -- convinced Artie to hide his ability from Ron for now, looked on, feeling guilty. Had Ron somehow found out about Artie anyway? But why the outrage?
"Know about what?" Harry asked, opting for the safe road.
"Mum! She's gone to St. Mungo's to 'get help' and I don't even know what's wrong with her! She says Ginny asked her to do it, but she won't say what it is, and St. Mungo's won't bloody tell me anything! I went by there before Kings Cross, and they must've said 'confidential' eight times in a ten-word sentence!"
Hermione levitated her school trunk inside and set it down near the fireplace. "Hi, Harry," she said, grinning at him.
"Hey," Harry said, looking from her to Ron and back again. "What's wrong with Mrs. Weasley?"
"Don't bloody know, do I? That's the problem!"
"Is that Artie?" Hermione squealed, falling to her knees next to the Kneazle. "He's adorable."
"Where's Crookshanks?" Harry asked, looking around.
"I left him at my parents' for now," Hermione said, stroking Artie's fur. "It's bad enough for Artie to get a new human companion so soon, so I think it's better if we introduce the two of them later. Kneazles can be very territorial."
"Will you two cat fanatics listen to me?" Ron exploded, shaking the parchment again.
Hermione turned to him. "Your mother is a grown woman, and if she didn't see fit to tell you all what's wrong with her, then that's her business," she said. "It obviously isn't about you, so let's have a cup of tea and discuss this like adults."
Ginny turned off the shower and stepped out of the cubicle. She wound her hair in one towel and wrapped another round her torso, then shuffled out into the locker room, her flip-flops leaving wet trails behind her.
Angela Kettle -- the reserve Seeker -- was the only one still there. Their Sunday morning practice had run longer than usual, and a lot of the girls had had to rush, but Ginny couldn't have taken that long, could she have?
"How long was I in there?" she asked.
Angela looked up from her boot laces. "Half an hour, maybe?"
"Wow," Ginny said, sitting down on the bench as she fished in her bag for her bottle of body lotion. "I guess the novelty of not being interrupted every five minutes will take a while to wear off," she muttered.
"Big family?" Angela asked, going back to her boots again.
"Six brothers," Ginny said. Five, her mind reminded her, and she squeezed too much lotion into her palm.
And it had been none, really, during her last year at the Burrow, but she could still never shower there without expecting someone to burst through the door at any time, so she'd never taken longer than ten minutes.
Angela whistled. "Wow. But at least you didn't have to fight over clothes and stuff, right?"
Ginny laughed. "No, but we fought over broomsticks."
Voices floated up to the open window in the antechamber -- the only window on this side of the building, where the locker rooms and showers were.
"Priya, honey, let's be reasonable," a man was saying. His butter-smooth, condescending tone grated on Ginny's nerves.
"Don't fucking 'honey' me, you ingrate," Priya retorted. "At least wait until we get to my office before you announce this shit for the whole fucking world to hear--"
The voices faded away, and Ginny glanced at Angela, who was frowning.
"Something wrong?" Ginny asked. "Should we go and see--"
"Nah," Angela said. "That was Kirk Stratham, one of the sponsor reps. He's a sleazy creeper, but he's important. Best leave it alone. Wanna grab lunch?"
"Sure," Ginny said, though it was closer to dinner-time by this point. "Just let me drop my gear off."
"Me too." Angela lived three doors down from Ginny.
They Apparated to the apartment building. Once home, Ginny threw her practice uniform into the laundry bin, then remembered the DA Dialogue Disc in the pocket of those robes. The Discs were a Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes product inspired by -- and modelled and named after -- the fake Galleons Dumbledore's Army had used in the war; they could be enchanted for as many as six recipients, but worked with as few as two. And earlier today Ginny had had confirmation that they worked across the Atlantic, for the blue penguin inside the Disc had turned purple. That meant that her mother had gone to see Neville at St. Mungo's, just as Ginny had begged her to.
She had at first thought about bringing her mother with her, but she wouldn't have been able to give the team her all if she had to worry about her mother all the time. Not that she was less worried with Mum so far away, but at least she didn't feel personally responsible to the same extent. Somehow, her words had got through. Somehow, she could maybe hope for a happy Christmas with the whole family together -- if not this year, then the next. The important thing was that Mum was going to be all right. Without her, there was no Weasley family at all.
"Thanks, Neville," she whispered, placing the Disc on her bedside table.
A loud buzz came from the sitting room, and Ginny rushed over, thinking it was Angela calling to see if she was ready to go out. Instead, a strange woman smiled pleasantly at her from the fireplace.
"Thank you for using the Far-Flung Floo Network," said the woman. "You have an incoming call from the residence of Mr. Harry James Potter in London, England. Would you like to accept, reject, or allow the caller to record a one-minute message? Messages may be played back for twenty-four hours following the recording."
Ginny stared at the woman's face, blinking. The call was from Harry's house, but Ron lived there too, and Harry did not know her address here. Ginny sighed; she had told her git of a brother that the Far-Flung Floo Powder was for emergencies only; at thirty Galleons a pinch, she couldn't afford a lot of it even on her salary.
Ron was no doubt calling about their mother, who likely hadn't told any of her sons about why she needed to get help in St. Mungo's.
Ginny was not ready to have this conversation. She blamed her brothers for how Mum got; they all were too happy to leave home after the war's end, and even their dinner visits dwindled to weekly after a few months. Ron would stop by in the morning for breakfast sometimes, but not nearly often enough. Ginny alone couldn't fill a gap left by all of her brothers. She couldn't even fill the one Fred had left. So she didn't want to discuss this with Ron; she'd only end up angrily throwing all this in his face and make him feel like shit. That wouldn't accomplish anything except make everyone a little unhappier. Besides, she needed to focus on her job, not star in a family soap opera.
But what if she was just over-thinking this, what if it was just pessimism? What if something had really happened, and this really was an emergency?
The buzz sounded again. "Thank you for using the Far-Flung Floo Network," the woman said, her bland smile unchanging. "You have a call from--"
... take the call.
... take a message.
... ignore the call for now, but make plans to contact Ron later.
... ignore the call entirely.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[ VI. Artie | ToC | VIII. Caper ]