Chapter: XII. Opportunity
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Chapter Warnings: Potential triggers for substance abuse
Chapter Length: 3200
Chapter Summary: Harry's rapier wit falls flat, Robards has a weak point, Draco is confused, and Ginny makes a connection.
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 say something along the lines of, "Fancy meeting you here, young lady.".]
"Which floor, miss?" Harry asked, feeling unnecessarily triumphant at Malfoy's glower.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Flirting on the job, Potter? Tsk, tsk."
Harry's face burned. "You--"
"Level Two," Malfoy said, smirking. The door clanged shut, and the lift began to descend.
"Tell me one thing, Malfoy," Harry muttered. "Why did you help Ginny?"
"You'll find out," Malfoy said, his smirk almost a genial smile.
"Stay the hell away from her," Harry said as the lift slowed.
Malfoy was really grinning now. "Why? What are you to her?"
The door banged open, and Malfoy walked out before Harry, wordless and spluttering, could manage a reply.
He headed directly for Robards's office, and Harry cursed under his breath, wondering if this little scene hadn't been yet another attempt by Malfoy to entrap him to make it look like unnecessary harassment. Never mind that Harry had started it; surely he was allowed some measure of satisfaction for foiling Malfoy's cross-dressing schemes.
Robards had been in a conference call with Bulgaria all morning, but now the Meeting in Progress marquee was gone from before his office door, and the secretary asked Malfoy to have a seat. Harry turned in the opposite direction and headed for his cubicle, the remnants of his earlier cheerful mood disintegrating. He should've waited for Ron instead of going back alone -- this was what he got for wanting to get a jump on the afternoon's work, damn it.
"You look like you've had stink bugs for lunch," Artie commented from the top of Harry's file cabinet.
"Mr Robards will see you now," the secretary told Draco, who rose with a quick glance towards the lifts to see if Potter had come back to lurk. He didn't seem to have, though Draco supposed he couldn't really be sure, not with that damned Invisibility Cloak of Potter's.
He walked through the door to Robards's office, shutting the door quickly behind him, half-hoping to hear a surprised yelp of pain as an invisible foot got caught in the frame. Nothing like that happened, and Draco approached Robards's desk.
"Good afternoon, Mr Robards," he said, wondering if he was going to have to stand throughout the interview.
"Have a seat," Robards said, pulling himself closer to the desk. "I hope this isn't about Harry Potter."
"It isn't," Draco said, sitting down in the uncomfortable hard-backed chair. As if Potter were important enough for Draco to appear in person.
"That's a relief, because I was beginning to believe you really want to see him disciplined."
"Potter's activities are of no concern to me," Draco said, "As long as he doesn't insist on showing up at our home unannounced every chance he gets."
"Well, then, what can I do for you, Mr Malfoy?"
Draco liked that phrasing. It suggested that Robards may be willing to do something for him. "I heard from a relative that the Ministry is experimenting with a reparations programme for lesser Death Eater convictions, and I was hoping to participate."
"We're reviewing candidates as their trials go on," Robards said, frowning. "Your sentence has already been handed down. Is there a reason to believe your sentence conditions are insufficient?"
"Not at all, sir," Draco said.
He had to be careful. Telling Robards the truth would have Draco on a lift back up to the Atrium in no time. He knew from Blaise that Robards had a bit of a family scandal in his past -- his son, about ten years Draco's senior, had been born a Squib. He had chosen a Muggle life at maturity and was now serving in the Muggle armed forces, so Robards had a soft spot for dutiful young men.
"It isn't that I feel as though my sentence is insufficient," he continued. "I do, however, feel as though it has not allowed me to make amends, so when I heard about the reparations programme, I thought it sounded perfect."
"Ah, is that so," Robards said, his shrewd eyes trained on Draco's face. Draco did his best to look earnest, though he suspected that only made him seem to be having a mild case of indigestion.
"Of course," Draco hastened to add, so as not to seem totally out of character, "I would certainly be pleased to have my travel restrictions lifted, but that is not a necessary condition."
Robards allowed a small so-that's-how-it-is smile. "By law we would have to modify your sentence if you participated in the programme; we can't just add new things to a sentence even if it's by the convicted person's request."
Draco knew that, of course. "You could lift the monitoring, too," he said. "As I said, my aim is not to have my sentence lessened."
"I see. You do know what kind of work you're signing up for, don't you?" Robards asked, still studying Draco intently.
"I'm afraid not," Draco said. "It doesn't really matter what the work is like."
"Really? What if you're made subordinate to house-elves?"
Draco shrugged, fighting to keep his colour from rising. "Then I'll have to ask the Manor's house-elves for some advice, I suppose." He'd expected dirty work -- not wholly demeaning. But even if Robards made him subordinate to Goblins, Draco had the future, not his immediate wishes, to consider. He'd find a way to manage it somehow.
Robards sat back and jotted something down on a memo, which immediately folded itself and flew off. "I'm not convinced you're really up for this," he said. "But we'll give you the opportunity to try. I frankly think travel restrictions are unnecessary to begin with; the more of your lot leave the country, the better, if you ask me."
Draco clamped his jaws tight to keep a retort in and nodded, looking down at his hands.
"If your two-week trial is successful, you can work for six months -- daily, mind, no weekends or holidays -- and I'll personally request that the Wizengamot modify your sentencing record."
Draco did the math -- they were in mid-August; if the probation was successful, he'd be done with the work by March, and free by April. Just in time for the full swing of the next Quidditch season. He rose. "Thank you for the opportunity, Mr Robards," he said, inclining his head.
"What about that mother of yours?" Robards asked. "You haven't mentioned her once."
"Mother is preoccupied with child care for my adoptive sister," Draco said. "She couldn't possibly spare the time." Which was true. But also, Draco wasn't going to let his mother take part in something like this without him going through it first.
He'd got the letter of assignment Robards had promised him later that evening, but it had only said to show up at St. Mungo's the next day. He was to be debriefed -- what the hell did that even mean? -- and taken to his new place of volunteer employment.
So there Draco stood near the reception desk at St. Mungo's, wondering if this whole thing had been a spectacularly bad idea. What if he was made to change patients' bedding -- or worse, their bedpans?
Neville Longbottom walked in from the stairwell and immediately gaped at him. "You're the reparations volunteer? They've got to be joking."
"Good morning to you too, Longbottom," Draco murmured.
Was there no getting away from these people? If it wasn't Potter, it was Longbottom, and with his luck so far, he'd have to become Ron Weasley's manservant for the next six months. It would be the wrongest Weasley possible, at any rate.
"Seriously?" Longbottom asked, sizing Draco up. His dark blue Healer smock was covered with electric-violet droplets of something undoubtedly evil. "They let you volunteer for this."
Draco sighed. "Unclench, Longbottom; it's a two-week trial at first."
"That's a relief. I dunno what the hell they're thinking. Well, come along; Healer Grahams is waiting for you."
He ushered Draco up a flight of steps and then made a wall slide aside, admitting him into an office stacked ceiling-high with teetering columns of files.
"You've brought him, then, Neville dear?" wheezed an old lady's voice from a direction Draco couldn't determine. Then a wrinkled face appeared inches from his, wreathed in a halo of wiry grey hair. "Hello there. They'll tell you to call me Grandma Grahams, but don't believe them. I am still a spry young thing." She was hanging upside down, her slippered feet hooked onto the dead ceiling fan.
"I can see that," Draco said. She looked like she should've died several hundred years ago. "My name is Draco Malfoy. I'm very pleased to meet you, Healer Grahams."
"A Malfoy, eh? You wouldn't happen to be Abe's grandson Draco?"
"The very same." The idea that Abraxas Malfoy could've been Abe to anyone was almost too much to contemplate. "I didn't realise any of his old friends were still around."
"Friends?" Healer Grahams cackled. "Heavens, no. I was his Herbology professor when he was still a lad. A rotten little miscreant, if you asked me, but no one ever did. Got better with age, though. We all do."
For a wonder, Draco had no idea how to respond. He glanced at Longbottom but found him gone -- apparently, Draco didn't rate a good-bye any more than he rated a good morning.
"Well, never mind that," Healer Grahams said, floating off towards a cluttered desk and flipping herself right side up in mid-air; how her robes stayed put through all this, Draco didn't know, but he was grateful for it. "Says here I'm supposed to send you to Cornwall; does that sound about right to you?"
"I'm afraid I don't know where I am to be sent," Draco said, offering a small prayer of thanks to whomever was listening that he wasn't going to have to work with this creature.
"That's right," she said, fishing a pair of spectacles out of her pocket. "I've got to tell you all about it, let's see, yes, and have you sign this, mm-hmm, all right, I've got it. I thought you were delivering a parcel for a moment there; isn't that strange?"
"Just a little," Draco said.
"I'm glad you admit it," Healer Grahams said, the spectacles now perched on her nose, mud-brown eyes swimming behind them. "The rest of these schlemiels would be falling all over themselves to assure me it wasn't strange at all. I may be getting a bit on in years, but I'm not stupid."
"I'm sure not," Draco said. "You were saying something about Cornwall?"
"Right, Cornwall. That's where you're going. You want to know what's in Cornwall? Or would you rather find out when you get there?"
Draco's eyes were threatening to roll so hard that he thought if he let them, he'd be contemplating the back of his skull for the next seven hundred years. "I'd really rather know ahead of time, if it's all the same to you."
"It's all the same to me," Healer Grahams said, nodding. "It's an addiction rehabilitation facility for wizards and witches. You're going to be -- now what's this? It says either whipping boy or errand boy; I can't bloody read it. Is it all the same to you? Never mind. Where in the dark blue blazes is my wand?"
Draco looked on as she emptied her pockets onto the paper-strewn desk -- herb pouches, glass eyeballs of various sizes, strings of beads, record-breaking amounts of lint, a bouquet of little paper umbrellas -- until she finally extracted a gnarled black wand, which she pointed at Draco, murmuring a spell.
"There, now you can get past the fireplace there. Off with you. You're going to St Mungo's Cornwall."
Draco backed out of the office -- the door materialised behind him as soon as he hit the wall -- and nearly fell out into the stairwell. Bizarre old crone; emphasis on old. If she had really taught his grandfather at Hogwarts, she must've seen nearly one hundred and fifty years.
Longbottom was loitering at the reception desk. Spotting Draco, he sighed. "She didn't have you sign one, did she?"
"This," Longbottom said, producing a twelve-inch-long sheet of parchment. Confidentiality agreement and code of conduct. You can read it if you want, but it's pretty standard."
Draco wasn't about to sign anything sight unseen, but the twenty minutes it took him to get through all the henceforths and therefores ended up being a waste of his time; it really was standard stuff. He shouldn't have been suspicious -- St. Mungo's couldn't exactly afford to try and cheat people who signed binding agreements with it; there'd be no end to litigation if they tried anything funny, what with the Ministry breathing down their necks. He signed with a flourish and handed the parchment back to Longbottom, who emitted a low-pitched whistle. A house-elf clambered out of thin air onto the floor in front of them, bowing even as it did so.
"Please ask this man the name of the place he's about to go," Longbottom said to the elf.
"What is the name of the place to which the young gentleman is pleased to be going this morning?" the elf asked, peering up at Draco timidly.
"St Mungo's Cornwall," Draco said -- or thought. What actually came out of his mouth was gibberish, so the contract was working as intended. Plus Longbottom now had proof that Draco hadn't faked his signature. As if he wanted to be telling people where he was going to be spending every day for the next six months. If all went well.
He turned to Longbottom, but once again found him gone. Really, this was a bit irritating. Not that Draco was particularly interested in Longbottom's company, but he could've at least tried acting like Draco existed. He walked off towards the fireplaces and made sure he was alone before stating his destination. He didn't want to end up on a goat farm in Albania.
The Cornwall facility's foyer was empty -- there wasn't even a reception desk of any sort, just four fireplaces side by side, two bare brick walls, and a set of sliding doors standing open. Draco walked through them into a vivid green meadow -- as far as he could see stretched a field teeming with pale lousewort. He turned around to look at the building: it was a one-storey brick structure, fairly small in Draco's estimation.
"Are you the Death Eater?"
Draco started, realising that a youngish black woman stood in the doors, shielding her eyes from the sun with one hand. He hadn't heard her approach at all.
"I'm not a Death Eater," Draco said, offering her his most winning smile. "I used to dress up as one."
"Oh, they sent me a funny man," the woman said, somewhat tartly. "I'm Danna; your new boss. What have they told you at Mungo's?"
"That I was to be either an errand boy or a whipping boy," Draco said, deflating a bit. He'd hoped to be charming, but Danna didn't look the least bit impressed. "My name is--"
"I don't want to know your name," Danna snapped. "Last thing I need is to find out what you've done in the war. I'm supposed to judge you on effort. I'll call you Stuart. Come along, I'll give you the tour and explain what you're supposed to be doing."
"What do you mean, find out what I've done?" Draco asked, hurrying after her. One of the brick walls in the foyer turned out to be fake; they passed through it just as if they'd been at Platform Nine and Three Quarters. "Don't they send you a -- I dunno, a file?"
"I've been here for the past ten years," Danna said. "No contact with the outside except what Mungo's administration thinks I need to know. Easier that way."
Draco glanced at her. "Easier...?"
"Easier for everyone. This is a place outside time, where people come to heal. You shouldn't have to talk to the patients, but if you do, you won't be able to tell them anything about current events. Try telling me some recent event that happened."
"The Hemingford Hawks beat the Salem Strikers in last weekend's Quidditch match," Draco said promptly, curious if the gag spell extended outside the British Isles. It did; he'd spoken gibberish once again.
"Now make up a fake event," Danna ordered.
"Uh. Neville Longbottom was elected Minister for Magic?" Draco ventured, but nothing but nonsense syllables came out. "How does that even work?" he complained, resenting Danna's self-satisfied expression.
"Cornwall House specialty," Danna said. "Took me six years to perfect it."
They had stopped in a large courtyard, and Draco could see now that the building had only seemed small from his vantage point in the meadow; it was actually an incredibly long hollowed-out rectangle with the meadow at the entrance and all around the sides, but a thick forest looming dark over the far end. The courtyard was green and bare except for the fountain in the centre, where there were picnic tables and lounge chairs.
People dressed in light grey robes milled about here and there, some by themselves, some in small groups -- a few were merely stealing glances at Danna and Draco, but most were openly staring. Draco spied several full-grown panther-dogs amid the onlookers. So that's what Dorsey will look like when she's an adult.
"Are the dogs--?" he began, just as one started to lope towards them.
Danna scratched the dog -- which, on all fours, reached up to the middle of Draco's chest -- under the chin. "Service animals. They're specially trained to make sure there are no... disturbances. Nothing like a two-hundred-pound beast on top of you to make you lose all your violence. Speaking of which, we need to patient-proof your wand before the rest of the tour. Follow me."
As Draco trailed after Danna towards yet another solid brick wall, he spotted a familiar figure in one of the lounge chairs -- Molly Weasley, dressed in patient-grey, her flame-red hair tied into a severe bun, sat knitting an incredibly ugly maroon jumper. The panther-dog lazing at her feet looked up briefly at Draco and then went back to pushing the giant ball of yarn around with its nose.
"I can't be sure," Alex said, "But I think it was set up."
"The whole game?" Ginny asked, staring at the chopsticks and wondering if she should just ask for a fork. "Why?"
They were having dinner at a Japanese place off the main drag; Alex had suggested it. Since the game against the Hawks last week, the entire team seemed to have decided they wanted Ginny to be their best friend; not that she was complaining, but it had all been moving awfully fast.
Alex shovelled several mouthfuls of rice into her mouth and shrugged. "Beats me," she said after swallowing her food. "But I was technically supposed to play in that game -- seniority and all that -- but I'm nowhere near as good as you. Maybe Priya knew something, and that was why she picked you."
Ginny thought back to the conversation she'd overheard after Priya had given her the good news. "I don't think that's right. And what do you mean, you're nowhere near as good as I am? I could never hit as far as you do."
Alex tapped her forehead with a finger. "You're good up here. I've got a better swing, that's all."
Ginny began to reply, but then spotted the absolute last person she'd expected to see in a Japanese eatery in Boston's Wizarding Quarter. Rita Skeeter was headed straight towards their table, triumph on her face, her tight blond curls bouncing prettily against her robes.
... tell Alex they both need to get out of there; the last thing she wants is for Alex to end up in Rita Skeeter's clutches.
... just make a quick excuse and get out of there; Alex is a senior team member and knows how to handle reporters.
... stay put -- why should she have to leave? -- but refuse to talk to Rita Skeeter.
... stay to find out what Rita Skeeter wants.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[XI. Nepenthe | ToC | XIII. Trepidation ]