Chapter: VIII. Caper
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: PG
Chapter Warnings: None
Chapter Length: 3700
Chapter Summary: Ginny tells a little lie, Quidditch is nothing without its fans, Neville isn't a bad catch, Blaise gets a new hobby, Draco returns to scheming, Laura only enjoys some aspects of nature, and Harry smells a rat.
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, Ginny decided to take a message.]
"Message," Ginny blurted. "Take the message."
As she fled the flat, she told herself she'd deal with it before long, so it wasn't as though she was dodging responsibility. She just wasn't up to talking to her brother right that minute; that was all.
She walked out into the hallway, where Angela stood, her hand poised for knocking. "You look like you've seen an Inferius," she remarked.
"Dodged a Floo call from my ex," Ginny said, shutting the door behind her. She felt guilty about how easily the lie came to her, but she wasn't about to try and explain to Angela why she was avoiding her own brother, not when Ginny wasn't all that sure of the answer herself.
Angela clicked her tongue sympathetically. "Bad breakup?"
"Kind of," Ginny agreed, following her down the stairs and into the sunlit afternoon. "He'll live."
"He's some famous Quidditch player, right?"
Ginny laughed. "Harry? He's a great Seeker, don't get me wrong, but he's not famous for his Quidditch. Who told you that?"
"Priya mentioned something like that before she brought you into the room with us -- I wasn't really listening, though."
Ginny mimed mock dismay.
Angela covered her eyes with both hands and peered at Ginny through her fingers, grinning. "So sorry."
Ginny sniggered. "Sure you are."
They Apparated to Boston's Wizarding Quarter and slid into a booth at Enzio's Panzerotti -- it was one of several dozen tiny food establishments that dotted the wizarding district all over. Ginny liked it much better than wizarding London; the closest Diagon Alley came to Italian food were the cannoli crudely drawn on the front of Lorenzo's menus. Here in Boston, Italian was just the beginning; you could have Thai or Japanese or Greek or even Jamaican if you wanted.
Ginny could easily have all those things if she went to Muggle London, but there was a sense of not-belonging there for her; a weird disconnect from everyone made worse by constantly having to remind herself that she couldn't use her wand or talk too loudly about magic. Whenever Harry and she would go out amongst Muggles, she felt like an impostor, and if she broke the rules, she'd be punished by her own people, and whatever unfortunate Muggles happened to witness it would have their memories unceremoniously wiped. There had to be a better way of integrating the two worlds. She'd only been in the States a short while, but she had already seen enough to know that the wizards who grew up here didn't live in constant dull fear of botching things up when they went out into the world. She wondered if she would with time learn to be a little more like them, and return to England with a fresh perspective.
Right now, she was still struggling with the realisation that the gaps between the world's wizarding communities were immeasurably vast -- and in this aspect too, the Muggles had done so much better. They had phones and the interweb, connecting them so easily with relatively little cost. Her father liked to say that Muggles were great at inventing all sorts of things to help them get along without magic, but the idea made her cringe. All the magic in the world didn't let her talk to her loved ones from here without considerable expense. Yet a Muggle somewhere in Bangladesh could have a conversation with a Muggle in northern Russia just any time they pleased as long as they could speak the same language. Ginny was sure the answer wasn't in developing new magic to catch up with the Muggles -- like the ridiculous Far-Flung Floo Network -- but in adopting the Muggles' ways. Even her father would laugh at the idea, though, because despite all the popular support for Muggle rights, most wizards simply took it as a given that they were better than Muggles in some significant way.
A middle-aged waitress was staring at Ginny expectantly, her order pad hovering by her shoulder.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'd like a tomato juice with lots of basil and an order of the mushroom-and-steak, please."
"Man, you looked like you were dead to the world," Angela said after the waitress trotted off. "Maybe you should've taken that call from your famous ex."
"No, it's not him," Ginny said, leaning back against the hard wood of the booth. "You have no idea how strange this place is to me -- back home, we just have... meat-and-potatoes places, I guess. If we want something like pizza, we've got to go where the Muggles are."
Angela's eyes widened a bit. "So you're like, completely segregated over there?"
"More or less, yeah," Ginny said. "I just wonder how come we have so many Muggle-born witches and wizards, but they all just... adapt to how things are and never try to change anything. We're big on tradition, fine, but it's ridiculous that I can't have a slice of pizza without risking my wand."
"Yeah, that kind of is," Angela agreed. "I'd probably drop dead of culture shock if I ever tried to go over there."
"Nah, you'd just blend in with the Muggles," Ginny said, nodding at Angela's perfectly well-coordinated outfit. "My mum once tried to go out wearing a lacy bra over a jumper because she thought it was a decorative accessory. I stopped her, but."
Angela giggled. "You're not serious."
"I wish I weren't," Ginny said, smiling in spite of herself. Then she remembered the state her mother was in presently and groped for a change of subject. "It's different with Quidditch, too. People are really into it, not like here." She'd seen photographs from past games in Priya's album, and it had struck her how bare the supporter stands looked in each one. "How can the management even afford all this equipment and rent and... everything?"
Angela shrugged and took a sip of her water. "Advertising, I guess. Most of the money comes from sponsors, not fans. I don't really care as long as I get to play in a real game once. We've always been big on all kinds of sports over here, so everyone gets a slice of the action."
"But what's the point if no one's cheering for us?" Ginny asked. "It's fun to just play, but part of the game is making your supporters happy, isn't it?"
"If you want that over here, you'd better learn Quodpot," Angela said. "Quidditch just never caught on as much -- probably because all the best people kept getting recruited to Europe and places, and by the time the rest of the world bled us enough of talent, America didn't have much interest left. I've never thought about it."
Ginny thought back to the inadvertently overheard conversation between Priya and that Stratham bloke. Angela was basically saying that the team was at the mercy of the likes of him, and that didn't sit well with Ginny at all.
Ginny stood outside her flat, staring dully at the door. Beyond there lay the fireplace with a message from Ron -- if he'd figured out how to leave one -- and she still didn't want to hear it. Her mother was getting help; Neville would make sure of that. Why did Ginny have to deal with the family fall-out at all?
Well, like it or not, she was responsible for this; she'd been the one to seek out Neville and then practically have to hold her mother down and even shout to make her listen. It wasn't an experience she ever cared to repeat; it had made her feel like a bully, even though she knew she was doing the right thing.
Neville had told her that St. Mungo's didn't have on-site facilities for alcoholism rehabilitation as it wasn't, strictly speaking, a magical malady -- Muggles suffered from it just as much as magical folk did, but in recent years the usage of Muggle drugs, especially by younger Muggle-born wizards, had become so prevalent that they'd opened a special treatment centre somewhere in Cornwall. Muggles off their heads from illicit substances could be very dangerous, but at least they couldn't misuse magic. The Ministry had passed a decree saying witches and wizards addicted to alcohol or drugs could be taken to the treatment centre even against their will, because they posed a significant danger to the International Statute of Secrecy.
Was it really all right to ask her mother to go there? Ginny imagined Molly Weasley surrounded by mentally unstable hooligans and shuddered. Neville had assured her that the people at the centre knew what they were doing, that her mother would never be in any danger, but Ginny would probably worry until Molly came home fully recovered.
Neville. Dear, sweet, quiet Neville. How different might Ginny's life had been had she not destroyed his half-formed crush back in third year by telling him she had feelings for Harry? But feelings couldn't be steered at will any more than a crowd of cats could, and she wasn't doing all that great setting her feelings for Harry aside to this day, was she? How many times a day did she catch herself thinking, wait till I show this to Harry or I can't wait to tell Harry about what happened, or I wonder what Harry would think about this?
Ginny shook her head firmly. Absence may have made her heart grow fonder, but she couldn't afford to dwell on her failed relationship. If these feelings wouldn't change at all in the next four years, then she would know that Harry really was the only one for her; that was what she'd decided. And if that really happened, she would get him back from anyone and anything.
In light of these new thoughts, the prospect of dealing with a very angry Ron didn't seem like such a challenge anymore, so Ginny walked through the door to her flat and straight to the sitting room.
A dark blue crystalline shape glowed inside the fireplace, so huge it felt like a blue flame burned inside. Ginny approached, not sure what to do -- where had she put the Far-Flung Floo instruction booklet? She was supposed to use her wand somehow, but --
"Thank you for using the Far-Flung Floo Network. You have a message waiting for you. To listen to your message, please use a Summoning Charm on the Floo powder crystal," a disembodied voice said: the same woman from before. "Message will be saved for twenty-two more hours."
Did that just keep repeating until the poor recipient gave up and listened to the bloody message?
Ginny took her wand out and Summoned the crystal. It exploded in a dazzle of multicoloured lights, filling the fireplace with the image of Ron's face.
"Er, hello? Ginny? Hermione, didn't you say I had to talk like normal? Who's that woman? Did Ginny have a plastic operation?"
"It's a message, Ron, and that's just a Far-Flung Floo Network agent of some sort. Ginny isn't home, obviously. You have to tell her what you wanted and she'll call you back."
Ginny smiled at Hermione's reassured-but-irritable tone; it felt so nice to hear her voice.
"I don't want her to call me back; I want to talk to her right now! Ginny? Can you hear me? You'd better bloody answer me, or--"
"Ron, just ask her to contact you and get your head out of the fireplace." Harry's voice was muted, as though he were two oceans away instead of just one, but Ginny's heart sped up nonetheless.
"What's the point of talking to this thing, then? Ginny? Hello? Are you there?"
"Ouch, Artie, careful, that's my hair," Hermione called, laughing. Who in the world was Artie?
"Sorry about that, Hermione. Artie, will you go and find your stuffed dormouse, please?"
"Never mind the blasted cat, can you help me out here--"
Then a boy Ginny didn't recognise said, "Why is your lesbian friend so rude, Harry?"
"End of message," the Far-Flung woman's voice said. "Thank you for using the Far-Flung Floo Network. We look forward to serving you again in the future."
The fireplace went dark, and Ginny stared into the emptiness, wondering what on earth she'd just heard. Ron was furious with her, that much she'd gathered, but who on earth was Artie, and why was there a young boy in Grimmauld Place? That couldn't possibly be Teddy -- he wouldn't have got that articulate. And who was Harry's lesbian friend?
She'd barely been gone a month, and now she felt an overwhelming urge to return immediately, if only to find out what the hell was going on over there.
Instead, she walked over to the desk by the window and unrolled a blank parchment.
"So why did you never show up on Sunday?" Draco asked Blaise. They lay in lounge chairs in the gazebo, surrounded by Narcissa's roses.
He was still looking for someone to blame, he realised. If Blaise had shown up as he was supposed to, maybe Draco might've gone off with him for a bit, maybe Luce wouldn't have become as angry when it was time for her bath; he couldn't explain to himself why this might be true, but his mind latched stubbornly onto the scenario and wouldn't let go.
"Oh yeah. I forgot. Daphne and Astoria dragged me to see a fortune-teller, and we lost track of time."
"A fortune-teller?" Draco propped his head up on his elbow and gazed at Blaise. "Real one?"
Blaise shrugged. "I dunno. Do you think my wife's cheating on me?"
Draco lay back down. "You don't have a wife."
"The fortune-teller was less sanguine about that. He insisted that I have an astral wife."
"An astral wife."
"And she's cheating on you."
"I can tell why you lost track of time."
"Knew you'd understand, my love. How's your sister?"
"Back to normal," Draco said, expelling a deep breath. "They came back from St. Mungo's this morning."
"What if it happens again?"
"Don't even say that," Draco snapped. "The Mediwitch said it's unlikely that wild magic will manifest exactly the same way, and just to be vigilant while Luce's teething. Apparently the tooth made her cranky, too, so it was just--"
"Babies are so odd," Blaise interrupted. "Can you imagine we were once toothless? Mother told me my first act of magic was to set Husband Number Four's hair on fire."
"Like mother, like son," Draco murmured, falling back down and shutting his eyes.
An image of Molly Weasley, huddled and miserable in that little room, appeared in his mind. His mother hadn't known anything about it, nor seen Mrs Weasley around. Draco wondered if finding out what was going on with Ginny's mother would be useful to his plans.
He'd written a letter shortly before Blaise's arrival. Potter should be receiving it any time now, judging by the sun's position.
I've been told you'd like to discuss a personal matter with me. I'm afraid I am not staying in England for very long this time, so please meet me at seven o'clock this evening if you can. I shall be in the walled garden of Lydiard House (in Swindon) -- if you follow the path along the wall on your left, you'll come across a bench. I will be waiting for you there. I apologise for the short notice, but I really cannot spare a moment at any other time. If this is unacceptable, please let me know, and I shall contact you again during my next visit -- in December.
My best regards,
P.S. Draco tells me you are taking care of a young Kneazle -- I'm afraid I must ask your pet to sacrifice an hour with you for my sake. I have an unfortunately severe allergy to these wonderful animals, and I did not bring any anti-allergy ointment with me.
Draco sat on the bench, listening carefully for movement. This area had closed to Muggles two hours ago, so he could be sure that any approaching footsteps he heard would belong to Potter. Lydiard House had some guards, but they never bothered to come into the garden once they'd shepherded everyone out; the front gates would be locked and one would have to be a wizard to get inside.
Chuckling at his little joke, he adjusted his hat to pull the veil lower over his eyes. His disguise was perfect, but you could never be too careful when dealing with Harry Potter, he had learned. Potter was not very bright, but he had the instincts of a fox, and a person's eyes could say a lot.
Footsteps. Draco folded his hands in his lap hurriedly and gazed in the opposite direction of the sound.
Draco looked around with affected surprise. Potter was wearing his Auror robes. "Mr Potter."
"Thanks for meeting with me," Potter said, and gestured at the bench. "May I?"
"This is a nice place," Potter said. "Very peaceful."
"The flowers are wonderful, aren't they?" Draco looked down at his folded hands. "I must say I was quite surprised that Draco is a friend of yours." He injected as much contempt into his own name's two syllables as he could.
"Oh, is that what he told you?" Potter muttered.
"Oh, no," Draco said with a little throaty laugh. "He just doesn't do any favours easily, good old Draco."
"We're not friends," Potter said. "Far from it. We just made an arrangement."
"He's good at making arrangements, our Draco."
"You don't sound very fond of him."
"That's because I'm not. Draco Malfoy is a tedious, self-important buffoon." Draco paused and counted to three in his mind. "But you didn't come here to talk about Draco, I presume. How may I assist you?"
"My girlf-- ex-girlfriend," Harry said. "Ginny Weasley."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realise things were like that. You two had seemed quite happy when I'd attacked you with Luce's pram..."
"No need, no need," Potter said, impatient. "I just wanted to ask you if you knew why she decided to move to America."
"She'd been offered a spot with that famous team, hadn't she?"
"Malfoy told me you helped make that happen. Why?"
Draco turned his head, not quite facing Potter. "I beg your pardon?"
"Why would you help her?"
"My goodness, Mr Potter, why wouldn't I? We met for drinks in that quaint village -- Honeymeade? -- and she told me about her dream to play with the Hothead Harpoons, and asked if I knew about this American team -- the Salem Slammers, I think."
"Oh, yes, of course. A friend of a schoolmate of mine knows the manager, so I put in a good word for Ginny. I did not realise I had committed a crime."
Potter took a deep, deep breath. "No, I'm sorry, I just forgot myself. It wasn't a crime. I'm just trying to--" He trailed off.
"--to work out why she left?" Draco asked, smiling in what he hoped was a knowing fashion. "It was my impression that she is merely chasing a long-cherished dream of hers."
"Did she say anything about me?" Potter eyed him apprehensively.
"Not that I recall," Draco said. Was this really Harry Potter? Draco had never thought that self-doubt was in Potter's dictionary, let alone his limited emotional repertoire. "I'm sorry if I've inadvertently helped contribute to your troubles, Mr Potter, but surely Ginny deserves to be happy?"
Potter sighed again, deeper this time. "Yeah. She does. Look, I'm sorry I bothered you with this. I just wanted to-- hell, I don't know what I wanted." He rose and extended his hand. "Thanks for meeting me, Miss Delamare."
Draco reached up to shake, but didn't let go. "Any time," he said, then used Potter's arm for leverage to rise from the bench in turn. Potter held him up without hesitation; their eyes met briefly, and Draco felt a peculiar flutter somewhere deep at his very core. What the fuck? "Thank you," he said breathlessly, and fled down the path, feeling every bit the heroine in a romance novella. What the fuck just happened?
Harry got back to the office to find Artie demolishing yet another memo. He gently prised Artie's jaws open and smoothed the parchment out. Something about illegal sports betting in Tunisia; nothing to do with him. He tossed it aside.
"How'd it go?" Artie asked, pretending as though he hadn't just been doing the one thing Harry had expressly forbidden him to do.
"I dunno," Harry said. Laura Delamare was an incredibly strange woman -- why had she looked at him like that after he'd helped her up? She'd looked... scared. Harry could tell even though her eyes had hid behind that gauzy veil she seemed to wear no matter the weather. "A very strange woman."
Artie sniffed the air. "You don't smell like you were with a woman."
"For heaven's sake, Artie, I was talking to her, not having sex with her. I hardly even touched her."
"And yet you touch Ron Weasley all the time. Why do you deny you're lesbians?"
Harry sighed. Arguing with Artie was a special kind of exercise in futility. He just had to learn things on his own -- like he'd learned that perhaps snapping at Ron during the Far-Flung Floo call to Ginny hadn't been the best idea, since now Hermione -- transported with happiness at the discovery of an actual Kneazle telepath -- wanted to talk to Artie all day long. Artie resented this, since he only wanted to talk when it suited him, not when people were asking him pesky questions.
Harry took off his glasses and set them aside. The encounter with Laura Delamare had left him unsettled, and now it had nothing to do with Ginny; it had everything to do with his damn Malfoy case file. He had a feeling Laura Delamare wasn't telling him something -- something she was afraid of telling him? Had her verbal abuse of Draco Malfoy been genuine, or was it something else -- a trick to fool him into complacency? An indirect cry for help? Who was this woman, really?
"I'm hungry," Artie said. "Have you got any treats?"
"What do you think I should do?" Harry asked.
"Give me some treats," Artie replied promptly.
"No, I mean about the Delamare woman."
Before Artie could finish, Harry picked him up and scratched his furry chin. "That's enough out of you."
...just leave it alone already. He's obviously jumping at shadows and needs to get a grip.
... question Malfoy informally about Laura in exchange for another unspecified future favour.
... seek Ron's and Hermione's advice; he clearly lacks perspective.
... just start tracking Malfoy's movements illegally; he's clearly up to something -- all Harry needs to catch him is a scrap of proof.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[VII. Ignition | ToC | IX. Alibi ]