Chapter: XI. Nepenthe
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Chapter Warnings: None
Chapter Length: 4000
Chapter Summary: Ginny ends up with more questions than answers, Draco gets a reaming, then reads the sports pages, Rita Skeeter gets a lead, and Harry walks right into potential trouble.
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 listen to the rest of the conversation despite the risk of getting caught.]
Ginny cast a furtive look in the direction of the staircase. Priya was probably the only one left on the premises, late as it was -- the building was quiet, and she was almost sure she would hear it if anyone were coming up to the third floor. She edged closer to the door and turned her head sideways so she could hear both the corridor noises and the conversation inside. She didn't, after all, have to make it obvious that she was here to listen -- if anyone were to appear, she'd just say that she'd come up here for her bag, heard there was a conversation inside, and was waiting for it to finish.
From this distance, she still couldn't hear Priya's interlocutor very well; the voice was male, but not one she recognised. He said something indistinct, and Priya snorted loudly.
"Come on, Bert, I've heard your sales pitch a hundred million times. Just because you've convinced yourself doesn't mean--"
The man interrupted Priya, but Ginny once again couldn't make it out.
Priya sighed. "You can say it as many times as you want; I am never going to like it. Ginny Weasley has star player potential, and it has improved tremendously since she joined the team. I do not like making her take the fall."
The man in the fireplace said what Ginny discerned were several sentences. What if she actually stuck her ear to the door--?
"That's not going to be of any comfort to her when the shit hits the fan."
"And you think too little of the present. The present is where everything happens to us, Bert. And when the present is awful, a bright future prospect is like Spellotape on a scar. At any rate, you're never going to make me see things your way. You knew when you hired me to front this team that I am as good at questioning orders as I am at following them. I'll speak to you in the morning."
There was a loud whoosh of a forced Floo call termination, and then the clang of the fireplace grate shutting.
Ginny stood there, barely letting herself breathe, feeling more confused than ever. Whatever uncharitable thoughts she was beginning to have about Priya had evaporated -- for whatever reason this man Bert and she had been discussing Ginny, Priya was certainly on Ginny's side. But Ginny had got the distinct sense that having Priya on her side -- in whatever this was -- may have meant little beyond the warm feeling deep at her core.
She counted to one hundred, slowly, listening for footsteps from both the stairwell and beyond the door, and then knocked.
"Who is it?"
"It's Ginny Weasley," Ginny said, not even having to pretend to be out of breath. "I forgot my gear bag."
"Enter," Priya said.
Ginny walked through the door, holding an imaginary stitch in her side. "I was all the way home before I realised I left it here."
"Oh, I didn't see it," Priya said. Ginny didn't think she looked suspicious per se, but she was studying Ginny with a somewhat avid expression. "If I'd noticed, I would have had it sent over."
"No problem," Ginny said, hoisting the bag onto her shoulder. "Looks like I still need the exercise, anyway," she added with a grin she hoped didn't look too affected.
"If you say so. Have a nice night, and we'll see you at practise, bright and early."
"Good night," Ginny said. On her way downstairs, she decided that Priya suspected nothing. That watchful gaze had probably been due to Priya just having defended Ginny to the mysterious Bert from the fireplace -- perhaps she'd merely been wondering if a girl who left her expensive gear around willy-nilly deserved any defending.
Defending against what, though? That was really all it came down to; even having eavesdropped, Ginny was no wiser about what was going on. It had something to do with Ginny playing in Sunday's game, something that would put her in a position to -- how had Priya put it? Take the fall. And judging from Priya's comments about no time being like the present, whatever it was had the potential to affect her future, but only if she -- what? If she adopted an attitude of "this too shall pass"? If she didn't let whatever happened get to her? Who was this man named Bert?
Ginny let herself into her dark flat and dropped her gear in the entryway, unpacking only the day's uniform into the laundry basket. She glanced at the wall clock -- it was nearly ten, and she had to be up at six for practice. With the way her mind was racing, she'd be lucky if she got to sleep by two, even if she went straight to bed.
She felt it had been the right choice to listen, because at least she could cross unfounded paranoia off her list now, but she still had no idea what was going on. She wished she had someone to talk to about it, someone who would take her side and listen. Someone who wouldn't just remind her that eavesdropping wasn't nice.
She folded a fresh uniform into the gear bag and considered stepping outside and knocking on Angela's door, but decided against it. Angela was fun, but they hadn't really spent enough time together for Ginny to ask her for advice in something like this. She wished Hermione weren't thousands of miles away.
Ginny undid her ponytail, her hair still a bit damp from the post-practice shower, brushed her teeth without bothering to turn the lights on, and climbed into bed, pulling the covers all the way up to her neck, and listened to the wall clock from the sitting room ticking the seconds away.
This was one thing that she hadn't considered when she'd accepted the contract with the Strikers. She'd thought she'd been lonely in the past year -- with her mother away in another world, Harry being a right arse, her brothers scattered to the wind, and all her other friends off at Hogwarts -- but that had been nothing compared to how she felt now. It was as though the world around her were a mass of grey, complacent faces, never mind the occasional friendly smile from a stranger or a meal shared with a teammate or six.
Angela was really the only one Ginny could call a friend of sorts. She wondered how much of that was because the other women seemed to passively avoid Angela, and Ginny herself sometimes felt as if there were some secret darkness about her. Not the sort Ginny had grown up fearing, not bad darkness, but... different and strange; she wasn't sure if Angela could be trusted. Maybe she needed to be more proactive in engaging her teammates. They'd all formed little groups of their own long before Ginny's arrival, but Ginny knew from experience that there was always room for one more in any group, even a tight triangle like the one Harry, Ron, and Hermione had once made. She just had to come to them, not expect them to go to her.
Resolving to seek out Alex, the other reserve Beater, after tomorrow's practice -- to ask her out for lunch or tea and maybe sound her out a little, Ginny was finally able to drift off to sleep. When she woke, it was not to her standard-issue bedside alarm going off, but to insistent tapping on her bedroom window. Ginny climbed out from under the covers, wincing as the night-cold air enveloped her, and padded across the room to admit a shabby-looking owl from the US Wizarding Post.
A knot formed in her stomach. An owl like this meant a letter from home -- or overseas, at any rate -- and she wondered for a crazy moment if she were receiving news of Laura Delamare's death again for some reason. Or maybe it was Ron replying to the rather testy letter she had sent after the Far-Flung Floo fiasco. Or maybe it was Neville, with some awful news about her mother. Or maybe--
Just read the letter, you twit.
Ginny did, glancing at the return address at the top of the parchment roll. It was Grimmauld Place, but this was not Ron's hand. Harry. Why?
I hope you've been well. I know we agreed it wasn't a good idea to write to each other while you're away, but I've found out something that you probably need to know.
Remember Laura Delamare, that live-in nanny for the Malfoys? I accidentally found out that it was her who helped get you the job in America. It turns out that she was not a real person. She was Draco Malfoy in disguise, for reasons known only to him. He found out somehow that I was onto him and quickly arranged for Laura to "die" on paper, but I had already worked it out by then, thanks to a new friend I've made (whom I think you'll like if you get a chance to meet him).
Anyway, that's it. I just wanted to make sure you were aware of this. If you want to know more, write me any time -- or just pass your questions on to Ron, and he'll answer them for me if you'd rather not hear from me again.
Narcissa was still sleeping off yesterday's outing with her sister -- she'd said something about going out to some godforsaken pier in Wales and feeding seagulls in memory of their girlhood -- and Draco was enjoying breakfast out in the gazebo. It would have been a quiet breakfast if it weren't for Luce crawling around her play-mat near his feet and having a loud yet one-sided conversation with said play-mat in baby syllables, but Draco thought of it as quiet anyway. The noises Luce made had never disturbed him, and he wondered, stirring milk into his tea, whether it was because they were related, because he loved her, or both.
Two weeks had passed since Draco had last seen Potter -- at Andromeda's, as it happened, and Draco was still pissed off at how perfectly rude that awful woman had been to him; he couldn't blame his mother for not intervening -- Andromeda was family. But he'd certainly see to it that Luce didn't visit her aunt too often, if she visited at all.
But back to Potter; he hadn't sprung up like a toadstool after heavy rain at Draco's every move since that day, and that was a good sign. Either Potter was truly a man of his word and thus was doing Draco the very small favour of leaving Laura alone -- or he'd learned of Laura's untimely and tragic death. Either way, Draco was glad to be finally rid of Potter, especially after those really unwelcome intrusions Potter's skinny denim-clad arse had made into his dreams. Nightmares, really.
There was a rush of wings overhead, and a neatly folded red envelope landed on top of Draco's eggs. A Howler? He looked around, but his mother was nowhere in sight. Her bedroom was on the other side of the Manor, so there was little chance of her hearing whatever it was, and Luce didn't understand English. Draco decided he'd better open it; Luce had a high tolerance for loud noises, but she'd never heard an explosion before, and it might scare her badly.
The Howler took a deep breath. "I have no idea what the hell you were planning when you decided to help me get on the team, but I hope you don't think I'll feel indebted, Malfoy."
Ginny. It was Ginny Weasley's voice, and she sounded really angry.
"Even if I give you far more credit than you deserve and suppose you acted out of some misguided sense of duty to make up for what your father did to me, you can forget it. Sneaking around dressed like a woman, pretending to be my friend, how dare you? You had better not show your face in front of me, ever, because I will permanently hex your balls right onto your forehead, you piece of shit!"
The Howler burst into beautiful green-tinged flames, and Luce laughed delightedly, waving her arms around, tiny fingers snatching at the bits of ash that fell towards her.
Draco looked down at his eggs; they were covered in torn parchment and ashes. He summoned a house-elf to fetch him a fresh plate and leaned back in the chair, grinning. As Ginny's tirade had progressed, his emotions had cycled from bewilderment to embarrassment to outrage, but he had a mind trained to look for advantage wherever one could be seen, and he saw more than an advantage here: he saw an opportunity.
He could work out what had happened easily enough -- Potter had gone to look for Laura, had dug deeper than Draco's muddling had allowed for, and found that no Laura had ever existed. Then he'd probably followed the paper trail all the way back to the Malfoys' French estate. That done, he'd tattled to Ginny. Potter wasn't completely stupid; Draco had to give him that. He had to at least know that Malfoy men didn't do anything purely out of the goodness of their hearts, so he probably felt honour-bound to warn Ginny.
Draco wondered if Ginny had got the good news before or after the letter about Laura's death. Probably after. The raw fury in her tone had been laced with something like betrayal, and Draco imagined it would not be pleasant to learn that someone you had liked well and have already started mourning turned out to have faked their death, or worse, not to have existed at all. But no matter.
The Howler had told Draco that Ginny felt strongly enough about this -- about him -- to initiate contact, no matter how rude. There was passionate anger in her, and passionate anything was better than a lack of feeling. If minds could change, so could hearts. Draco was willing to bet that Potter had no idea that he'd just handed Draco several trump cards in this little game of theirs.
This wasn't even a set-back; merely a bump in the road. After all, Draco had planned on revealing Laura's true identity to Ginny all along. What mattered was that he'd done something for Ginny, and no matter how much she protested that she felt no gratitude, Ginny Weasley was a Good Person, and Good People were never ungrateful. Her anger would make it difficult for Draco to approach her initially, but once he'd got all the way past the front door, he'd beg for her forgiveness and declare his undying love, and even if she turned him away three times or a dozen, she would eventually relent.
The only unknown in this was Ginny's remark about what Draco's father had done to her. What had he done? Draco suspected it had something to do with something that his father and mother had been awfully secretive about in Draco's second year at Hogwarts, but his memories of those days were too hazy to be of any use.
Still, he was frightfully angry at Potter. He knew he should've suspected something when Potter stopped haunting his steps like a Dementor. Another owl flew through the gazebo and dropped a sheaf of newspapers -- onto the floor this time, thankfully. Luce immediately commandeered the front section of the Daily Prophet, but Draco wasn't interested in that: he spied a copy of World of Wizarding Sport, the American magazine he'd started subscribing to earlier. How very like the Americans to assume they knew anything about the world of wizarding sport.
He'd been told there would be a week's delay in delivery due to some international treaty or other, but that was just fine by Draco: the cover story in this -- last week's -- issue had the words "Salem" and "Strikers" in it, as well as a photograph of an attractive, but unsmiling, witch in a green-and-tan Quidditch uniform.
As Luce happily shredded the front page of the Daily Prophet into tiny scraps, Draco scanned the headline article. It started with a listing of team line-ups for a match from last Sunday, between the Salem Strikers and the Hemingford Hawks; Ginny had played second Beater.
The Hawks had won by a large margin, but the writer of the article barely paid any attention to the winning team; instead he extolled the virtues of Ginny's exotic foreign play style, lauding her for having tried to save the game singlehandedly for her team. He did this while disparagingly characterising the rest of the Strikers as having decided to be premenstrual together.
The article concluded with a note that little was known about Ginny Weasley's background, and if there were more players like her floundering in obscurity back in the Old Country, it was every team manager's duty to scout those poor boys and bring them into the light.
"Done!" Luce announced, and Draco gaped down at her goofy, grinning face.
"Did you just say something, demon child?" he asked, all thoughts of Quidditch and Ginny and those bloody arrogant Yanks fleeing from his mind.
"Done!" Luce shouted, throwing fistfuls of Prophet into the air.
"You're done reading the newspaper?" Draco asked, pointing at the mess on the floor, not believing his ears. Surely this had to be some kind of spontaneous coincidence; Luce was still at least two months' shy of speaking. "Done?"
"Done!" Luce agreed, showing off her one front tooth.
"I think we'd better go and wake your mother," Draco said.
Draco walked down Knockturn Alley, trying to restrain the bounce in his steps. What had begun as a normal morning had brought him one piece of good news after the other, and then Luce had spoken her first word -- which Narcissa was probably still making her repeat to this moment. Draco wished he were there too, but he had an important meeting, one that he thought might become even more important that he'd thought, considering all these good omens. He didn't even care that he had to wear a cloak in this heat to conceal his identity at least to the casual passerby.
He stopped in front of a dilapidated two-storey building that looked like its roof was about to slide off to the side and read the sign on the door.
Author at Large
The words were framed in a pattern of acid-green quills -- not painted, but glued to the door, so that they fluttered with the ever-present chilly breeze.
He hadn't spoken to or heard from old Rita since his fifth year at Hogwarts; she'd just sort of disappeared off the map and he had in fact forgotten she existed until that biography of Dumbledore surfaced last year. They'd had a short but productive chat over the Floo a few days ago, and Draco had promised to stop by today for a more personal interview. Rita was working on a new biography for Potter -- and expanded and annotated version of the one she'd published right after the war -- and this time she was actually doing research.
He knocked once, and the door swung inwards. Rita had let herself go a bit since leaving her job with the Daily Prophet -- her blond curls, once tight and bouncy, fell lazily around her shoulders, and she wore no make-up that Draco could see, but she didn't look any less shrewd than he remembered, and that was good. He'd thought of a very interesting use for Rita on his walk over.
"Oh, the legendary heir to the Malfoy name and fortune," Rita drawled. "Welcome, welcome. Do have a seat there."
"You look better than I remember," Draco said, sitting down in the squashy armchair Rita had gestured to. "Always a pleasure, Ms Skeeter."
"Rita is just fine; may I call you Draco?"
"Of course," Draco said. "All my friends call me that."
"We have an hour before my next interview, so plenty of time to get started, I should think," Rita said, beckoning her Quick Quotes Quill closer.
"Get started, certainly," Draco agreed. "But first I've got a question of my own for you."
He had to be very careful. He'd always associated Rita with an crocodile in his mind, because like any self-respecting crocodile, she didn't discriminate when it came to prey. The last thing he wanted was for her to see through to the heart of the matter and pen an article about some sordid love triangle between him, Ginny, and Potter. Rita had assured him that she only printed less favourable accounts of people she didn't like, but Draco had never met an crocodile with a genuine heart-deep liking for any of its lunches.
"The interview subject turns the tables on the interviewer! I like it," Rita said, nodding.
"Did you know that Ginny Weasley broke up with Harry Potter?"
Rita's pencil-thin eyebrows shot up. "She did? How interesting. Everyone seems to think they're taking a break while she's off learning to tame bears or whatever it is she's doing in America. You know this how?"
"I have a very reliable source," Draco said. "Someone who was friendly with Ginny for a time."
"But not any more?"
Draco nodded. "Just so. Unfortunately, my source passed away recently.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. What was her name?"
"I don't think it's necessary to tell you his name," Draco said, smiling slightly. "I do know that Weasley broke things off with him right before leaving for America -- to play Quidditch, not to tame bears."
He leaned in to look as the Quick Quotes Quill scribbled furiously: the abuse -- stemming no doubt from Harry Potter's deep-seated intimacy issues due to losing his parents at such a young age -- became so relentless that the poor embattled young woman had to gather all her courage to flee to America to escape the vicious cycle of jealous rages and near-violence....
When their hour was up, Draco took his leave, supremely confident that Rita was going to take a trip to Salem, and soon. The World of Wizarding Sport article had reminded him of the power of newsprint, and Rita's inventive skill. Making Rita sympathetic to Ginny had been the right decision; she would be somewhat fair to Ginny, who had never done Rita any wrong, while dragging Potter's name right through the roadside dirt.
It had been yet another happy coincidence that his interview with Rita had fallen on today, and Draco was going to test his lucky streak even further. He was going to stop by the Ministry and talk to Robards -- he hadn't planned to do that until he'd had a chance to discuss it with his mother, but resolved that he'd better not anger the omen gods.
As vile and useless as his aunt Andromeda was in general, she had let it drop to Narcissa -- in Draco's presence -- that due to the large number of people still on trial for war crimes even now, the Ministry was in the first stages of rolling out an experimental reparations programme. The idea was that those accused and convicted of less heinous crimes during Lord Voldemort's reign could work off their debt to wizarding society instead of serving punitive sentences. There was still some debate about whether remuneration ought to be involved, but the programme was underway, with six or seven people already "serving the community", Aunt Andromeda had called it.
Draco didn't mind work, no matter how beneath his station or demeaning, if it served his interests, and he certainly was not going to make any bones about getting paid. If he could convince Robards to let him join this programme, he could be living in Salem by next summer.
Harry discarded the last of his usual pizza lunch in a bin near the Ministry lifts and walked in, only to find Malfoy leaning against the far wall, his cold grey eyes piercing.
... say something along the lines of, "Fancy meeting you here, young lady."
... demand to know what Malfoy is doing there.
... greet Malfoy civilly -- he is at work, after all -- but no more than that.
... ignore Malfoy completely.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[X. Nascence | ToC | XII. Opportunity]