Chapter: XIII. Trepidation
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: 4100
Chapter Summary: Rita Skeeter asks too many questions, Ginny contemplates the shrubbery, Draco dances with mops and continues to scheme, Ron brings in the paper, Artie supervises dinner, and Harry makes a startling realisation.
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 stay to find out what Rita Skeeter wants..]
Rita's grin grew wider as she approached, and Ginny had to fight the urge to flee. "That woman's a reporter from back home," she said to Alex quietly. "Don't say a word to her. If you tell her the sky is blue, she'll print that you admitted to murdering your favourite grandmother on a clear day."
"Classy," Alex said. "What's she want with you?"
"I think we're about to find out."
"Miss Weasley, unless my eyes are cheating me?" Rita chirped, sliding into the booth next to Alex and squaring Ginny with an intent gaze.
"What is it that you want, Ms Skeeter?" Ginny asked, laying her chopsticks aside and signalling the waiter for their cheque. She'd all but lost her appetite.
"I was hoping to get a statement from you to confirm some interesting information I've obtained while researching my new book."
"What new book?"
"Is it true that you fled to America to escape your boyfriend's abuse?"
Ginny saw Alex's eyes widen and shook her head emphatically. "What the hell? I came here to play Quidditch."
"Uh-huh, for the Salem Strikers, I am told." Rita's Quick Quotes Quill flew across the scroll she'd extracted from her purse and let hang by her side. This was not going to end well.
"How did you even find me here?" Ginny asked. "If you want to talk about the team, I suggest you contact our manager. Her name is Priya Malakar and she'll tell you everything you need to know."
"I read about your success in a recent game," Rita said. "Would you say--"
"What success?" Ginny snapped. "We lost."
"Ah but it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play, is it not?"
"This is completely wrong," Alex burst out, staring at the text emerging from beneath the Quick Quotes Quill's tip. "Where the hell is this thing seeing downcast eyes and a haunted look on Ginny? And who's Harry Pooter?"
Rita waved a dismissive hand, her bright-red talons gleaming in the soft overhead light. "The Quill exercises a certain amount of editorial discretion; not to worry, Miss--?" She let the question hang as their waiter flew by, depositing their cheque.
"I ain't giving you my name," Alex said, glowering. "Ginny, are you sure you want to talk to this person?"
"Now that I know why she's here, not any more," Ginny said, offering a tiny grin. "I've got this one," she said, slapping coins down atop the cheque. "Let's go."
They Disapparated to the team's apartment building and ended up on opposite sides of the entrance courtyard.
"I didn't know you were famous in your country," Alex said, perching atop the back of a bench.
Ginny joined her. "I'm not," she said. "My ex is, though, and that woman hates him."
"Your ex is Harry Pooter?"
"Potter," Ginny said. "Don't you guys learn about European history here?"
"Not too much," Alex said. "It's not like we ever need it. What did he do?"
Ginny had no idea where to begin explaining Harry's contribution to wizarding history. "What about the Boy Who Lived?"
"Oh!" Alex brightened. "Yeah, I remember that story -- one of the guys in our History of Magic class did a report on it and got booed because nobody believed it was even true until our professor confirmed it." She scratched her head. "Oh yeah, you had something like a terrorist attack not too long ago, right? Radical pure-blood types, same as the ones who killed the boy's family?"
"Something like that," Ginny agreed, inwardly appalled that she had had to sit through weeks and weeks of Professor Binns talking about wizarding settlements in the New World when the New World apparently didn't care about her world. "Anyway, Harry's the Boy Who Lived."
Alex whistled. "You were dating a historical figure. That's pretty wild. Does he have special magical powers?"
"Well, he's a bit of a celebrity because of the war and stuff," Ginny said, smiling a little. "But I'm not sure how he'd like being called a historical figure, and he doesn't really have any special powers, no."
"So why'd you guys break up?"
"Really long story," Ginny said, glancing at the hedgerow. She didn't really want to talk about Harry -- or anything, for that matter -- here in the open. Rita could've easily followed them here in her Animagus form, and she may be hiding in the shrubbery, listening. "I can tell you about it if you're interested, but can we go to my place?"
"If you're worried about the reporter, she can't possibly hide here," Alex said, gesturing around. "The hedges are too low."
"She's a beetle Animagus," Ginny said, her voice grim. "She can hide anywhere."
Alex looked alarmed. "What? But that's illegal."
"No, Animagus transformation. It's been outlawed in America for decades; no one will teach it, and there's a strict control on literature. She shouldn't have been let into the country to begin with."
"Well, she's unregistered," Ginny said. "That might be why she was allowed in."
Draco pulled out his patient-proofed -- which meant that no one but he could use it on Cornwall House premises -- wand and sent a row of buckets floating to the underground well enclosure. To prevent accidents and suicides, only inanimate objects could pass through the enclosure barrier. Once the buckets filled and heated themselves, he marched them out into the courtyard and summoned the mops, then sent a mop-bucket pair to each door facing the courtyard. That done, he hefted the bottle of Mrs Skower's All-Purpose Magical Mess Remover and started the day's round of floor cleaning.
He had to work fast -- the patients had gone off to the communal kitchen to prepare supper five minutes ago, and he had to finish cleaning before they started filing back into their rooms. He emptied a cupful of Mrs Skower's into a waiting bucket, opened the first door, and set the mop to work, proceeding to do the same around the House's perimeter.
The patients did their own dusting and straightening up, but they couldn't have access to any kind of household cleaning substance -- some of these people's addictions were so desperate that they'd try and get off their heads on lousewort, if any of it were allowed to grow inside the courtyard. So things like mopping the floors, laundry, and dishes were Draco's responsibility. He had to work fast and he had to keep out of the patients' sight as much as possible.
No matter how he tried to look at it, he was Filch. Only better looking.
It was better than bedpan duty, but limited contact with patients meant he couldn't approach Molly Weasley as he pleased. He wasn't sure she even knew he was here -- she hadn't noticed him on the day he'd started, and he hadn't seen her since, but he knew that her things had been moved to Blue Four the other day. That was the room block closest to Danna's office, where everyone ready for discharge went. Molly would be going home in days, and if Draco didn't work out a way to approach her without breaking Cornwall House rules soon, he'd lose his chance to make a connection with Ginny's mother.
Achilles, who had been lying motionlessly near the fountain in the middle of the courtyard, gave a warning bark. The chatter in the dining area was intensifying, which meant he had less than twenty minutes left before Danna let the patients be excused from the table.
"Good boy," Draco called, picking up the pace.
The panther-dogs were bloody marvellous, even better than Draco had imagined when they'd bought Dorsey. They weren't terribly pack-like, but they had a keen interest in everything and were able to work things out faster than some wizards Draco had known in his time. There were nine dogs all told; their care and feeding also fell to Draco, since the patients couldn't be allowed out into the fields behind Cornwall House, where the dogs' kennel was.
"Hurry it up," he told the last mop, which had found a large spider in a corner of the last Red Six room and was attempting to squash it instead of shooing it out.
Draco whistled for Betsy, who trotted over and made quick work of the spider with her massive jaws. The mop, its dilemma solved, dunked itself into the bucket, wrung itself out, and finished off the floor. Draco started back around the building, marshalling the mops and buckets back towards the well -- where there was also a disposal grate for dirty water -- siphoning excess water from the floors into his wand as he went.
After almost two weeks on the job, he was sure he was better at this than Filch could ever have hoped to be.
Once the mops and buckets were stowed away, Draco carried the Mrs Skower's back to Danna's office to lock up. The patients were already coming out of the dining hall, and he quickly threw his robes' hood over his head so they wouldn't see his face. Truthfully, he wanted one of them to see his face, but he meant to pass his probation, and that meant following the rules. Danna liked him well enough; he could tell that much, but she had no patience for rule-breaking.
In the doorway to Danna's office, he froze for a moment: Molly Weasley sat on the wooden bench in the waiting area, Danna next to her.
"Sorry," Draco mumbled, pulling the hood further down and turning towards the storage cupboard.
"It's fine, Stuart," Danna called. "Come and join us when you've put that away. Mrs Weasley wants to talk to you."
Draco didn't understand why he didn't feel the least bit happy: this was what he'd wanted, wasn't it? But it wasn't on his terms, and he didn't know what to expect. Fearing what might happen, not knowing if he would be able to play this situation to his advantage -- all that overshadowed his initial, fleeting triumph.
He locked the cupboard, lowered his hood, and approached the women.
Danna put her hand on Molly's arm briefly and rose. "I'll be watching from my office," she said. "Fifteen minutes?"
Molly nodded, her brown eyes -- identical to Ginny's -- steady on Draco. "Thank you."
"Come in here for a second," Danna said, beckoning Draco inside her office. "We're preparing to discharge Mrs Weasley, and her family members will be visiting daily starting tomorrow, to get her up to date on what's been going on so she's ready to face the world again."
Draco nodded. "All right, but what does that have to do with me?"
"Mrs Weasley recognised you a few days ago when you were letting the pups out before you left, and she told me there's something she needs to speak to you about. I don't know anything else. It's probably part of her rehabilitation; you know the steps they go through."
Draco didn't really; since he knew he wasn't going to have much patient contact, he'd only half-listened to her explanation of the treatment process. He nodded anyway. "All right, so I just have to hear her out, right?"
"That's right. But I am going to deactivate the Garble spell in the waiting area while you two are talking, because whatever it is she needs to tell you obviously has to do with," --she jerked her thumb in the direction of her window-- "out there. So keep your mouth shut as much as you can, and don't tell her anything she doesn't need to know. Mrs Weasley has made remarkable progress, but relapse is always a danger."
Draco nodded again and turned to leave. "Will you be listening to us?"
"No," Danna said. "I don't want to know what you did, remember?"
"Right." He walked out, shutting the door behind him.
"Hello, Draco," Molly said as he faced her again.
"Hello, Mrs Weasley," Draco said, feeling extremely uncomfortable. He had to try and make a good impression, but he had no idea what common people were impressed by. Perhaps you should find out before you attempt to approach this woman's daughter, he thought.
"I won't waste your time," Molly said. "There is just something I would like you to tell your father from me, if you would."
Draco's blood rushed away from his face so quickly that he thought he could feel each vessel emptying. "My father's dead," he said, not even pausing to think. "He died in Azkaban a year ago."
Molly covered her mouth with her hand. "Oh. Oh. I didn't know. I haven't been... myself. Haven't kept up with news--"
Her voice was shaking, and Draco began to panic. What if this was going to cause her to relapse, whatever the hell that meant? He tried to think of something to say, but couldn't -- he'd just been to visit his father's grave, for fuck's sake, and to hear this woman talk about him as though he were alive; it was--
"I'm very sorry for your loss," Molly said. "I honestly didn't mean to be so rude. I feel terrible."
Draco, who had always handled pain by dealing out pain of his own, was having incredible difficulty keeping his mouth shut. He glanced towards Danna, who was stretched out on the sofa in her office, watching them as she bounced a ball off the thick glass. Thwock. Thwock. He hadn't even noticed the sound before.
"I'd been drinking myself into oblivion ever since my son died," Molly said. "That's why I'm here. Haven't paid attention to anything outside my own head. That's why I didn't know about Lucius--"
"It's all right," Draco said. Keeping his focus on Danna's ball had steadied his nerves and reminded him that he was supposed to be using this to his advantage, not getting caught up and swept away. "It's not your fault. But I suppose you won't get to say what you wanted to."
"No, I can still tell you. It concerns your mother, too, and both our families to some extent. I have forgiven Lucius for slipping Ginny that cursed diary. I bear you and your mother no ill will. That's all, really."
Molly looked crestfallen. "You didn't know?" She sighed. "Danna says I should keep putting one foot in front of the other, but I don't suppose she meant for the feet to go in my mouth."
"Now I understand why Lord Voldemort was so displeased with us," Draco concluded, stretching out on Blaise's new bed. Mrs Zabini had allowed her son to move out so he could have privacy as his courtship of Astoria Greengrass entered a more serious stage.
"It sounds so bizarre," Blaise said, sliding his hands behind his head as he looked up at the ceiling beside Draco. "A Horcrux. Your father had such a thing in his possession."
"I wonder why they never told me," Draco said, recalling the strained conversation with his mother. "I may have been a child back then, but I wasn't a child when we fell out of favour."
"Plausible deniability," Blaise said. "If you don't know about it, you can't lie about it."
"It did work out for the best," Draco said.
He wanted to say more, but he couldn't -- it would mean disclosing that Molly was in Cornwall House, which the Garble spell made impossible. Still, he thought, Molly Weasley doesn't hate me, and Danna said I could do the follow-up visits with her if I wanted. When Cornwall House discharged a patient, someone from St. Mungo's was supposed to pay a weekly visit to make sure the patient didn't relapse, but Danna thought that since Draco was familiar with how the House worked, he'd do a better job. It wasn't certain yet, but if she managed to get approval for him to get the required training, he'd be visiting the Burrow weekly for the next six months. That much he could tell Blaise, so he did.
"How did that come about?" Blaise asked.
"Can't tell you," Draco said, drawing his hand across his neck. "But Christmas is only three months away, and guess who's going to be there around that time?"
"Aren't you going to Sicily in November?" Blaise asked.
"Mother doesn't want to. She wants her sister around, and Andromeda refuses to take Teddy out of the country until he's at least eight."
"I hate you," Blaise said. "Things just arrange themselves for you when all you do is sit around looking pretty. I had to work my arse off for Astoria to realise I'm not just interested in being her best friend."
"Well, Ginny said she was going to hex my balls onto my face next time she saw me, so I can't say I'm as much better off as you think I am," Draco countered.
Blaise snorted. "Speaking of which!" He reached over to the bedside table and handed Draco the Evening Prophet. "Your future wife's in the news again."
"So I'm not sure if I should spend the year at the international desk here or if I will get more breadth of experience at the consulate in Australia," Hermione said, gazing at Artie and Crookshanks sitting on the windowsill. She had brought Crookshanks in a week before, and he and Artie had got on fantastically so far.
"Ron's not keen on the Australia thing, I'm assuming," Harry said, setting his Chinese takeaway container aside.
Hermione gave him a wry smile. "What gave it away?"
A blur of black robes stormed through the entrance to the sitting room, and then Ron was standing there, looking apoplectic and waving a copy of the Evening Prophet, as though attempting to dispel some unknown stench.
"It's about Ginny," he said after a moment, and Harry's heart nearly leapt out of his chest.
"What's happened?" Hermione reached over and took the paper from his hand, scanning the headline article quickly. "Oh my God."
Harry sidled closer to read over her shoulder.
GINNY WEASLEY'S NEW LIFE
By Rita Skeeter, International Correspondent
While researching for my latest book, I had a chance to catch up with Ginny Weasley, the up-and-coming Quididtch star, in an Asian eatery in Boston's trendy wizarding quarter. Having fled from the clutches of her possessive, controlling boyfriend, the young woman has really come into her own in America, enjoying great acclaim in her blossoming career as a Beater for the Salem Strikers.
She looks troubled with I ask her about her relationship with Harry Potter: her eyes are downcast and haunted, but she has no regrets. That chapter of her life is closed now, and though she plans to return to England sometime in the future, she doesn't dwell on what waits for her there, for she will come back stronger than she was before.
I look at Ginny's companion -- Alex Teixeira, another reserve Beater for the same team -- and think that perhaps Miss Weasley has moved on more completely than we all supposed: the restaurant is off the beaten path, and the customers are predominantly young couples. Teixeira is a handsome woman a few years Ginny's senior, and just a tad too protective for a mere friend.
See WEASLEY, Page 18.
"Short but vicious," Hermione said, frowning. "I'm not even going to read any further. What an utter cow!"
"What the hell's her problem with Ginny?" Ron asked, sitting down cross-legged onto the floor.
"It's not Ginny," Harry said glumly. "She's done nothing but sing praises to Ginny, if you didn't notice. She's trying to make me look bad."
Hermione patted his hand. "It's okay. No one believes her drivel anyway; you must know that!"
"I know," Harry said. "Don't worry. I know."
Having found validation for his outrage, Ron appeared to relax. He immediately stuck his nose into Harry's empty takeaway container. "You ate it all?"
"You said you weren't going to have any," Harry said. He was itching to take the newspaper from Hermione and read the rest of the article, but he couldn't very well do that after just having agreed that it wasn't worth his time.
"Whose turn is it to cook?" Ron asked, gazing hopefully at Hermione.
"Yours," she said. "Don't even think about trying to fob it off on me again; I've taken your turn three times in a row already."
Ron sighed. "Fine. I'll be in the kitchen if you need me."
"We shall supervise," Artie said, trotting after him. He'd taken to referring to himself and Crookshanks as one entity in the past few days; it was more than a bit terrifying, considering how intelligent they both were.
"We'd better go and make sure he doesn't set the house on fire," Hermione said, rising to follow Ron and the cats. "Come on, Harry."
Harry shook his head. "It's okay. I've just eaten, and I need to think."
"About the article?"
"No, no," Harry lied. "Just work stuff. You go on. I'll come down in a bit."
She left carrying the paper. Harry couldn't tell if she'd just absent-mindedly brought it along or deliberately took it away so he couldn't read the rest.
It had stung him badly to read about Ginny possibly being involved with someone else -- especially before he'd realised that Alex Teixeira was a woman's name.
But it made no difference, did it? If Ginny was really going out with a woman, it was no different than if she were to go out with a man. Wizards were a lot more relaxed about that kind of thing than Muggles -- sure, Ginny never told Harry that she liked women as well as men, but that didn't mean anything. She had never thought to describe her breathing process to him in great detail, either.
Harry remembered that time he'd nabbed Malfoy and Zabini for public indecency -- even the hoity-toity pure-blood types obsessed with lineage didn't think there was anything wrong with a man putting another man's cock in his mouth, so--
Harry's mind cycled from the back alley blow job to Malfoy disguised as Laura Delamare snogging Zabini in Hogsmeade, to Malfoy-Laura's tense pale face when he'd met Harry in the botanical garden, his firm grip on Harry's arm, the terrified expression just before he'd fled into the night, Malfoy's suggestion that Harry was flirting with him in the Ministry lifts.
Had Malfoy's actions up until now been the slightly more grown-up equivalent of attempting to pull Harry's pigtails? Had Malfoy helped Ginny go to America just to get her out of his way?
But that made no sense, none at all -- they'd never liked each other; how could Malfoy have changed his mind to such an extent? It was impossible, stupid, unthinkable.
The thought was lodged in Harry's mind, though; he couldn't stop remembering little moments that would've been perfectly innocent if not for this new suspicion: glances that had seemed meaningless began to gain significance. The Fiendfyre at Hogwarts and Harry pulling Malfoy out, Malfoy's arms painfully tight around Harry's waist -- had that been the turning point?
Harry shook his head forcefully. It was utter nonsense. He'd simply been looking for an explanation for Malfoy's recent behaviour so intently and for so long that his mind was tired of it. It was trying to come up with an answer just to make him stop thinking about it.
And he was supposed to make a drop-in visit to Malfoy's reparations workplace to speak to his supervisor in two days' time. Harry was more than a little bitter about Robards having gone over his head to grant Malfoy's request, but there was nothing for it. Robards had been increasingly unhappy with Harry's level of personal attachment to the Malfoy case file -- he hadn't said anything so far, for no major lines had been crossed yet, but Harry could sense the growing disapproval.
Maybe Robards was right. Maybe Harry was too close to the case to manage it effectively. He caught himself realising he feared facing Malfoy at the rehabilitation centre in Cornwall, and that was a laugh, wasn't it? But if his earlier suspicion was correct, Harry didn't want to come within a mile of Draco Malfoy if he could help it. He could ask someone else to do the drop-in, perhaps. But he couldn't very well avoid Malfoy forever.
He could do what protocol dictated and hand over the file to another Auror, to someone who could manage it without so many personal stakes. But it was his file; he'd worked it since inception. How could he just hand it off to someone else?
... hand over the Malfoy file to another colleague, permanently.
... request to share the Malfoy file with another colleague; the other can do all the in-person follow-ups while Harry does the rest of the work.
... keep control of the Malfoy file but request that Robards delegate the Cornwall House follow-ups to another colleague.
... stop assuming things he has no proof for, keep the file, and do his own damn follow-up at Cornwall House.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[XII. Opportunity | ToC | XIV. Hatred ]