Chapter: XIV. Hatred
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: 3800
Chapter Summary: Bygones are not bygones, Harry is not biased, Draco takes an unauthorised trip, Dorsey loses her temper, and Blaise makes a withdrawal (or two).
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 stop assuming things he has no proof for, keep the file, and do his own damn follow-up at Cornwall House.]
There was a crash in the kitchen, and Harry jumped; his knee bumped the coffee table, sending the takeaway container to the floor.
"Good thing I finished it," Harry mumbled, leaning over to pick it up.
The mundane nature of the task and the sounds of Ron and Hermione laughing downstairs brought him out of the strange state he'd been in. It had almost felt like a psychotic fugue of some sort -- Malfoy, have a secret crush on him? Ridiculous. Harry was just tired from overwork and he wasn't thinking straight. He would hold on to the Malfoy file and do the follow-up himself, and -- if Malfoy actually passed the evaluation -- would continue to do the follow-up visits until Malfoy's term at Cornwall House was up. Even if Malfoy had some weird ulterior motives, it was none of Harry's concern, surely.
Satisfied, Harry carried the takeaway container to the kitchen, where Ron already stood over a cauldron, rocking back and forth on his tiptoes. Artie and Crookshanks sat on top of the bare spice shelf next to the stove, following Ron's movements with their eyes as though hypnotised.
"Why won't it boil?" Ron asked.
Hermione, who sat at the dining table, the Evening Prophet open in front of her, didn't look up from the paper. "It isn't supposed to boil at this point," she said. "When you see holes in the rice, that means it's ready."
"Holes," Ron agreed, peering anxiously at the cauldron. "How long will they take?"
"You can sit down," Harry said, placing the takeaway container in the rubbish bin. "Twenty minutes at least."
"No, I'd better watch it," Ron said. "What if it burns?"
"We can watch it," Artie offered. "For a fee."
"You don't even like rice, Artie," Harry said, joining Hermione at the table.
"We didn't say we wanted rice," Artie retorted. "Some warm milk will do just fine."
"It'll just upset your stomach," Hermione said, still not looking up from the article. "I'm going to report her."
"Skeeter?" Ron asked. "Didn't you have an agreement?"
"Our agreement was in fifth year," Hermione said. "I promised I wouldn't tell anyone if she didn't print anything for a year, and she didn't. But it's been far more than a year, and I don't see why she should be allowed to run around writing this rubbish."
"What are you talking about?" Harry asked. "What good will it to do report her? She'll just get fined--"
"Animagi are illegal in the States," Hermione said, finally looking up. She was smiling in a way that usually bode ill for her enemies. "If I tell the Improper Use of Magic Office, they'll have to alert their counterpart in the States; it's part of an agreement they signed about a decade ago after we failed to report that an Animagus from Belgium was on one of our ships headed Stateside."
"And once their local Hit Wizards know what's going on, it's good-bye Rita Skeeter," Ron said.
"She's just gone too far this time," Hermione said. "It's one thing to print lies about Harry, because at least Harry can defend himself, plus nobody believes half the stuff she writes about him after that fiasco of a biography, anyway."
Harry felt hopeful. "Are you saying it's impossible that Ginny's, you know. Seeing her teammate?"
Hermione glanced at Ron, whose ears turned red. "I wouldn't say it's impossible," he muttered. "I just don't think it's true. You two just broke up, you know."
"We started going out weeks after she ditched Dean Thomas," Harry pointed out, his stomach dropping. Why wouldn't Ron just deny it? Was there something he and Hermione knew that Harry hadn't?
"Dean Thomas wasn't you," Hermione said, fixing Harry with a stern look. "Ginny didn't-- wait, don't tell me you believe Skeeter's lies?"
"It doesn't matter what I believe," Harry said. "It's Ginny's business either way; it doesn't belong in the newspaper."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're talking about lesbians, aren't you?" Artie chimed in.
"Wow, they worked fast," Harry mumbled, slurping coffee as he glanced through the morning's Prophet. The dominating headline was PROPHET'S CORRESPONDENT DEPORTED: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS? He was having a nice sit-down breakfast for once: his first appointment of the day was with Malfoy's boss in Cornwall House, so he didn't have to show up at the office until after lunch.
Hermione leaned over his shoulder and sniffed. "As if this would make any difference to international relations," she said. "If anything, it'll make them better -- the Improper Use of Magic Office could've just ignored the whole thing and no one would've been the wiser except us. This way, they proved that the UK can be trusted to uphold our end of the agreement."
"Well, the Prophet's been pretty anti-America lately," Harry remarked. "The USA Quidditch team is an early favourite to play in the World Cup finals next summer, and ours is dead last in that ranking."
"It's irresponsible, that's what it is," Hermione said, pouring herself a coffee. "But what are you doing home? Ron left an hour ago."
"Offsite appointment," Harry said.
For a brief, insane moment, he considered sharing his concerns with Hermione to see what she thought, but thought better of it. Now that he'd had a good night's rest, the idea of Malfoy nursing a doomed crush on Harry seemed even more ridiculous than it had last night, probably even more ridiculous than the idea of Malfoy being after Ginny. After all, Malfoy's sort didn't do half-bloods or blood traitors.
He finished his breakfast and headed to St. Mungo's, where the welcomewitch informed him that Trainee Longbottom was assisting his tutor with a difficult patient and that she'd get him ready for the trip to Cornwall. Harry had planned to invite Neville out for drinks next week, but he could always send an owl.
After signing several release forms and getting a lecture on confidentiality, Harry stepped out into the cool, dark foyer of Cornwall House. He couldn't see anything but a field of green outside the only set of doors, blazing with early morning sunlight. Besides the door and the fireplace, the place was empty, and Harry was just wondering if he'd accidentally misspoken his destination when a woman walked through the wall, practically colliding with him.
"Yes. Mrs Walsh?"
Harry had looked her up out of curiosity -- her husband, Andre Walsh, had been one of the members of the original Order of the Phoenix; he had died not long before the end of the first war, at barely twenty-three years of age.
"Danna is fine."
They shook hands, and then Danna conjured a pair of armchairs and a coffee table. "Have a seat. Anything to drink?"
Harry glanced at the seating. He had signed a form that forbade him from entering the facility grounds, but he'd hoped to see the place for himself, truthfully. "Is there no way we can bend the rules a little?" he asked. "I'd like to have a clear idea of what it is Mal-- Stuart does."
"I'll tell you all about that," Danna said, frowning. "I understand that you'd like to be thorough, but I can't let you on the premises -- you're not some non-entity; you're famous. People know your face. Unless you want me to lock all the patients up just for a look round--"
"Of course not," Harry said, disappointed. He had thought that the form had been a standard "no law enforcement" sort, but to know that it had specifically been prepared because of who he was... And this business with Malfoy being called Stuart. This place was weird; it really did feel like something outside reality.
Half an hour with Danna answering questions about Malfoy's performance and attitude all but convinced Harry that Malfoy had been sending someone else to work in his stead. It just didn't add up -- he was practically a house-elf, and not a word of protest or complaint? Not to this woman, not to Robards, not to the press?
"You look sceptical," Danna said as Harry looked over his notes.
"It just doesn't sound like you're describing the person I know."
"I'm describing my experience. Maybe he just doesn't like you. I have a feeling he gets nasty if you cross him."
"Are you saying he's fond of you?"
"He's a bit afraid of me, I think," she said with a small smile. "I run a tight ship. I'll grant you, he's more than a bit arrogant, but I don't need him to be anyone's friend. The work he does is more than adequate."
She glanced at her watch. "Ah," she said. "You could observe him a little now if you'd like; it's time to feed the dogs."
Malfoy feeds dogs?
She led him out into the sunlight; they circled the building along an invisible barrier that made the whole structure shimmer like a desert mirage. Harry watched four enormous dogs lope past the barrier on the other side, and bound towards a small house -- unprotected by magic but obscured by tall shrubs -- further in the field.
Then he saw Malfoy -- and it was certainly Malfoy; there was no mistaking his tall, slender figure and long white-blond hair -- hurrying after them, shouting something. One of the dogs doubled back and did a wild little dance around Malfoy, making him laugh. Malfoy patted the dog's massive neck and said something that sent the dog off towards the small house at triple its earlier speed. A moment later, Malfoy disappeared into the shrubbery as well.
"We can go closer," Danna said. "Can't see the kennel enclosure from here."
"No need," Harry said. "I've seen enough."
"Have a seat, Mr Malfoy," Robards said.
It had been a week since Draco's probation had ended. He'd expected that he'd be told the results right away, but apparently the wheels of justice only turned that fast around here when someone was sentenced to prison. Draco sat down.
Robards glanced at the file open in front of him and then put his elbows on it, leaning forward. "I wouldn't say it's a bad evaluation," he said. "But I wouldn't call it a good one. Not insubordinate, but not especially deferential, either. It gives me the impression that you were not dedicated to your tasks as such, but were rather going through the motions of your assigned job duties."
That wasn't completely wrong, but it wasn't right, either. Draco was very much dedicated to doing his best at Cornwall House; it was his only ticket to freedom. He hadn't realised he was supposed to act like this was his life's work. Danna had told him she'd only said nice things to the evaluating Auror; she wanted him back. Wasn't that enough?
"Well, Mr Malfoy?" Robards stared at him.
"I'm not sure what you'd like me to say, Mr Robards," Draco said coldly. "I have done practically nothing but eat, sleep, and work during those weeks -- I'm not going to tell you that I plan to pursue a career in janitorial services, but I should think my performance was beyond adequate."
"When I let you participate in the programme, I was under the impression that you're interested in making amends, Mr Malfoy. I'm sure you realise one cannot make amends half-heartedly."
"Half-heartedly?" Draco asked, balking. "You are familiar with my financial situation, Mr Robards, surely it's a bit much to claim that I'm being half-hearted when I'm dedicating ten hours of every day to--"
Robards frowned. "Ten hours? Says here it's eight."
"That can't be right," Draco said, indignation welling up in his chest like lava. "I leave the house at eight sharp and I don't return until well past six. Aren't there entry logs for the centre's fireplace?"
"Indeed there are." Robards put his spectacles on. "Perhaps your evaluator has made an error."
"Perhaps he's made several," Draco suggested. "It's Potter, isn't it -- you know he's got it in for me..."
Robards held up a hand. "I will not tolerate unsubstantiated slandering of my subordinates, Mr Malfoy. Based on what you've told me today, I shall consider sending another evaluator for a second opinion. The Office will let you know of the results, if any, in writing no later than a month from now. For the time being, however, your services are not required by St Mungo's. You may take your leave."
"I appreciate your time," Draco said through clenched teeth.
As he walked out of Robards's office, he glanced down the hall -- somewhere in that maze of cubicles sat Potter, no doubt rubbing his hands together and grinning vulture-like over his ability to jerk Draco around by these invisible strings this fucking department had tied to him. How Draco wanted to just march down there, grab Potter by the throat and drag an explanation out of him! But that would just get him arrested. Aurors were better than everyone else, no matter what their promotional brochures claimed.
When he reached the Ministry fireplaces, he cast a quick glance around. It wouldn't hurt to try and see what Danna had to say about all this? Even if his entry permit into Cornwall House had been revoked, he could hang out in the foyer until she came out -- it wasn't as though he had anything better to do elsewhere.
Danna appeared practically the moment he stepped out of the fireplace. "Thank Merlin," she said. "I thought you didn't want to come back. Come on, hurry up--"
"The Ministry won't let me come back," Draco said. He knew now that the report Robards had seen probably had little to do with what Danna had actually told Potter. "They think I'm half-hearted and, uh, not deferential enough."
"Bullshit," Danna said. "I told the bloke who visited that I wanted you to stay."
"He happens to have rather selective hearing, I think," Draco said. His insides had twisted themselves up into knots of various shapes and sizes. "I know it was Potter who came here; you don't have to try and keep him anonymous. He's in charge of my family's file."
"Well, bully for him," Danna snapped. "I don't care what he's got against you, I don't want to train a new person -- you were doing fine. I'm going to write to St Mungo's and formally request your return."
Draco felt absurdly touched. This was the first time someone not related to him by blood or childhood bonds appeared to want to intervene on his behalf, and though he'd always scoffed at such displays for other people, it felt pretty damned nice. It felt particularly nice to have Danna in his corner; through the very short time he'd known her, Draco had got the impression there was little she couldn't do.
"Thanks," he said, meaning it. "I'd like to come back."
"Achilles misses you," Danna said, not looking at him. "When it's time for midday feeding, he always runs back to do his little dance for you, and looks so disappointed when you aren't there."
Draco threw Dorsey's chew toy a little further. Training her to fetch had proven to be an exercise in futility thus far: she couldn't quite understand that the toy could not be thrown again unless she brought it back first. Dorsey lay in the grass a few feet from the gazebo and attacked the toy, occasionally looking up at Draco with a puzzled doggy grin, as if to ask, "why won't it fly when I have it?"
Narcissa and Luce had gone off for some grand adventure with Andromeda and Teddy, and Draco had time to kill before they returned for supper, so he might as well try to feel useful. In the week since he'd seen Danna, there'd been no word from her or the Ministry.
He clapped his hands together. "Come here," he called, beckoning.
Dorsey barked, wagged her tail, but stayed put.
"Young Master Draco, a visitor," rasped an elf from inside the gazebo.
"Harry Potter, Young Master."
Draco whistled to Dorsey. "Bring him out here. I don't want him befouling the house with his presence."
"Yes, Young Master."
In truth, Draco had half a mind to just tell the elf to send Potter away -- he didn't want to look at Potter's smug face ever again if he could help it. But he had to deal with Potter whether he liked it or not, unless by some stroke of unbelievable luck Potter decided to hand over their family's file to someone else in the force. Like that would ever happen.
"I've been instructed to apologise," Potter said without preamble as soon as he appeared. "I'd made a mistake in calculating your hours at Cornwall House based on the fireplace entry record, and that reflected poorly on your overall evaluation. Please accept my formal apology for this oversight."
Draco stared at him, dumbfounded. "You're apologising for fucking up my hours? How about you going against Danna's express wish to keep me on staff?"
"The Auror Office does not take personal feelings into account when evaluating eligibility to continue in the reparations programme. Mrs Walsh's opinion may be swayed by a variety of factors, and--"
"Shut the fuck up," Draco snarled. "You lied in your report because you hate my guts, so don't fucking stand there lecturing me about personal feelings, Potter."
"I didn't lie," Potter bit back. "We're supposed to provide an informed opinion to go with our reports, and in my informed opinion, you shouldn't be allowed anywhere near those patients."
"Why, because of my penchant for murdering innocent civilians? If I'm such a menace to wizarding society, why didn't you just lock me up in the first place?"
Dorsey growled uncertainly, and Draco reached down to pat her head. "It's all right. He's about to leave."
Potter glanced down at the puppy. "This is the same breed of dog they have at Cornwall House. Did you obtain permission to--"
Draco's head nearly exploded, and he began to walk towards Potter wishing for nothing but to dislocate his smug-looking jaw with his own bare knuckles, classless as that would be. "Give me a fucking break. We've had Dorsey for ages; you can talk to the shop owner at the Magical Menagerie for proof -- and the minute you do, I will report you for harassment, because that's one too many times you've crossed the line, you fucking prick. Now get the fuck out of my sight." He was so close to Potter that he could see the beginnings of a five o'clock shadow on his face, stark against the deep pink flush in his cheeks. "Why the hell are you blushing?" he demanded.
Then he remembered the public indecency incident and realised in an instant why Potter was blushing. "Don't fucking flatter yourself," he muttered.
He backed away, though. The last thing he needed was for Potter to accuse him of sexual harassment -- people like Potter thought that every time someone known to suck cock approached another male, it had to be for sex.
And then he realised something else -- Potter was actively trying to provoke him into violence. He had come here armed with more knowledge than Draco, and though his boss had obviously told him off and demanded he apologise in person, Potter wasn't about to let Draco do as he wished. He wanted Draco to do something stupid so he could declare Draco a dangerous element who shouldn't be trusted with the well-being of patients. Never mind that Draco's charges at Cornwall House were brooms and dogs, not patients.
"Tell me one thing, Malfoy. Why are you so invested in this job? What's in it for you? Robards may believe your tripe about wanting to make amends, and I can't argue with him as he's my superior officer and I'm not completely stupid, but I know you're full of shit. If you just tell me the truth, I'll leave."
"How many times do I have to tell you it's none of your business?" Dorsey began to whine again, and Draco patted her flank absently. "Every extra minute you spend here will be an extra minute described in loving detail to your superior officer, and this time I will get my mother to demand that he hand over our file to someone who is not obviously biased against our family."
"Biased? First of all, your mother has nothing to do with this; second, how the fuck am I biased? When have you ever given me a reason to think well of you?"
"It's not your job to think well of me, Potter. It's certainly not your job to try and ruin my life--"
Dorsey lay down on top of Draco's feet and let out a pitiful howl.
"All right, boys, that's far enough," said a pleasant voice, sending a conditioned shiver through Draco. "You're upsetting the puppy so much that I can't just stand by and watch this any further."
Draco felt a hand in his pocket, and before he could react to his wand being so unceremoniously swiped, Blaise moved smoothly away towards Potter, who took a stumbling step backward -- afraid of catching the gay disease, no doubt. Then Blaise's arms went around both of their necks, and Draco felt the pull of Apparition at his navel.
A moment later, he was in the middle of Blaise's kitchen, brightly sunny and smelling of whatever was cooking at one of the bakeries downstairs. The window was open, and the gauzy curtain -- something that hadn't been there last time Draco saw this place, and thus certainly a touch of Astoria Greengrass -- danced in the breeze.
Potter stood a little apart from him, looking thunderstruck -- of course; he probably couldn't process how anyone would dare treat an officer of the law this way. Draco hoped Blaise had a really good explanation for what he'd just done, because they could both end up in prison if Potter got angry enough.
Blaise, still grinning amicably, opened one of the cupboards. "It's within my rights as a citizen to break up a quarrel that's about to get ugly, no matter who's involved. Panther-dogs don't howl for nothing; one of you was about to attack."
Draco looked at Potter, who had suddenly developed an avid interest in Blaise's kitchen flooring.
Blaise brought out a bottle of Firewhisky and slammed it down on top of the table. "You shall now proceed to work out your differences like civilised people," Blaise said, holding up two wands, neither of them his. "Draco, you know where to find the glasses. I'll be back in a few hours."
And then he vanished.
Draco stared at Potter for a moment, then bolted for the kitchen door: locked. The window was open, but this was the ninth floor -- jumping out without his wand would be suicide. There was a forty per cent chance wild magic would save him, and even then he'd be in violation of the Statute of Secrecy -- Blaise's kitchen faced a busy street crawling with Muggles.
... sit the fuck down and pour himself a glass of Firewhisky.
... wait to see what Potter does.
... attempt to break through the door the Muggle way.
... jump out of the window and hope he doesn't die.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[XIII. Trepidation | ToC | XV. Essence]