Chapter: XV. Essence
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: PG-13
Chapter Warnings: Explicit references to homophobia
Chapter Length: 3700
Chapter Summary: Draco gets shitfaced, Harry thinks of alphabet soup, and Ginny ends up in a late-night heart-to-heart.
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, Draco decided to sit the fuck down and pour himself a glass of Firewhisky.]
Draco opened the black mirror-glass cabinet next to the window and pulled out a glass, hesitated, then took out another. He set them on the table and sat down, his back to the window, then poured a full glass for himself. He would have preferred it over ice, but he didn't have his wand.
The first shot exploded behind his eyes and scorched a path down his gullet. Draco set the glass down and stared through it at the amber-coloured empty. Firewhisky was supposed to fill you with courage, but Draco would've settled for a nice pair of standard-issue wings.
"What, you're just going to sit there and get drunk?" Potter asked. He hadn't moved from the spot where Blaise had deposited him. His hand was in his robe's pocket.
"What else do you suggest? If you want to jump out of the window, be my bloody guest. Literally," Draco said, his voice a bit hoarse from the burn. "Your wand's not going to appear in your pocket, by the way."
Potter withdrew his hand and showed him a small circular disc. "Not my wand. I can have half an Auror squad here in ten seconds if I press this."
"So what the fuck are you waiting for?" Draco demanded, downing another shot of Firewhisky.
Harry stuck the Emergency Backup Summoning Device (patent pending) back in his pocket. This wasn't an emergency -- his life was not in danger, and he'd have to write an incident report when he got back to the office. And then he would have to explain what had given Blaise Zabini -- who was under minimal watch, and thus would be considered more trustworthy than your average Death Eater type -- the idea that he was about to attack Malfoy. It was true; he'd had a fairly harmless curse all picked out, but he hadn't quite decided to do it. Mostly because he'd had no real reason to, other than being extremely pissed off.
"Zabini's right," Harry said, noticing that Malfoy was still staring at him, waiting for an answer. "It's in both our interests to have this discussion so I can stop trying to guess what you're up to. In case you've forgotten, I'm your case officer. If I have questions for you, you may not be obligated by law to answer, but it would make things a hell of a lot easier for everyone if you did. If you've got nothing to hide, it shouldn't be a problem."
Malfoy took another shot of the Firewhisky and shrugged. "Blaise is a fuckhead, and so are you."
"Just tell me, Malfoy. Why do you want your travel restrictions lifted so badly that you're lowering yourself to house-elf work? Where do you plan to go and what do you plan to do there?"
"Fuck off," Malfoy said, grimacing as he lifted the glass to his lips again. If he kept that up, Harry would soon be getting nothing from him except slurred expletives.
"Malfoy, be reasonable--"
Malfoy slammed the glass down and stared at Harry, his eyes bloodshot and wild. "Reasonable? You want me to be reasonable? I'll tell you what would've been reasonable -- for the Wizengamot wonks to let us serve out our house arrest and then just let us go."
Harry sat down across from Malfoy and folded his hands in his lap. "I don't want you around here any more than you want to be here, but the punishment was designed specifically to make sure you couldn't simply flee to another country and start a new life, free of society's judgement."
"Right," Malfoy said with sudden calmness. "I suspected as much." He sniffed the half-empty Firewhisky glass and topped it up. "I hope this knocks me out before you start sounding like a normal human being."
"Did you know that your mother wasn't supposed to have travel restrictions, but she asked the Wizengamot to add them to her sentence anyway?"
"You keep my mother out of this," Malfoy growled, the fury creeping back into his eyes. "Why aren't you drinking? I went and got a glass for you and everything."
"I'm on duty," Harry said. It wasn't precisely true -- he could drink on duty if it would help establish rapport with a lead or witness, but he and Malfoy had gone beyond rapport years ago.
Malfoy sniggered. "The Magnificent Harry Potter can't hold his alcohol. How sad."
"What, you want me to drink with you?" Harry asked, bristling despite himself. What was it about Malfoy that made Harry want to prove everything he said wrong, no matter what the cost?
"My father taught me that only degenerates drink alone," Malfoy said with a strange little smile. He was fading fast, and if Harry didn't get his answers soon, he'd be writing a report about the pink unicorns Malfoy would soon claim to be illegally raising in his wardrobe.
"If the shoe fits," Harry said after a pause, watching Malfoy carefully. The flare he expected didn't materialise; either Malfoy was a peaceful drunk or he was no longer entirely present. How much Firewhisky did it take to flatten a man?
"Why the fuck are you determined to ruin my life, Potter? Answer me that and I might answer your stupid questions. What do you hope to accomplish? Do you think I'm going to see the error of my ways faster if you tread just a little harder on my throat?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Harry said. "No one's determined to ruin your life. I'm just trying to do my job."
"By falsifying information about my work at Cornwal House?"
"I didn't bloody falsify anything. The hours thing was an honest miscalculation. I don't think--"
"Fuck what you think." Malfoy took another shot and slammed the table with his fist. "You could just tell I like the place, so you want to take it away, like you want to take away everything else."
Harry was taken aback. "You like it there?"
Malfoy looked up at him blankly. "What's not to like? Danna doesn't give me any grief, neither do the dogs. They don't care that I'm supposed to be some kind of monster. Leaving aside the fact that I haven't done anything especially monstrous..." He trailed off, and his eyes fixed on Harry's for an uncomfortably long time.
Harry looked away. "It's no more than you deserve. You may not have been the worst of the lot, but you've done plenty."
"Bullshit," Malfoy slurred, taking another shot. "The Wizengamot and your boss have already decided what I deserve; who the hell appointed you judge and jury?"
"You don't get to forget, Malfoy," Harry snapped. "You don't ever get to forget what you did."
"What did I do? Whom did I kill? As I recall, I'm one reason you're alive to harass me at your fucking leisure."
For a moment, all the words in Harry's head became like the inside of one of those little red tins with letter-shaped spaghetti covered in tomato sauce that Aunt Petunia had liked to feed him because they were cheap and required little effort.
"You? You're the reason I'm alive?" Harry spluttered. "What is wrong with you, Malfoy; I'm the one who saved your arse -- twice, once from the Fiendfyre, and then--"
Malfoy laughed. "I thought you would see it that way. Except if I'd sold you out when the Snatchers had brought you to the Manor that night, I'd never have ended up in those situations in the first place. You would've been dead and the war would've been over in our favour. I noticed you never even mentioned this at my trial--"
"You want credit for doing the right thing for once in your fucking life? Besides, I wasn't even sure if you had recognised me--"
"Why not?" Malfoy slammed his fist against the table, causing the glasses to rattle. "That's all there is to you, isn't there? Getting credit for choosing to do the right thing, but only at the right time. The Hypocrite Who Lived--"
"Why didn't you speak up at your trial then?" Harry demanded. The Firewhisky bottle was looking more and more attractive. Not for drinking, but for smashing Malfoy's smug face with. "Why didn't you talk about how you bravely kept your fat mouth shut--"
Malfoy laughed. "Are you fucking kidding me? Who would've corroborated it? You? Granger? You all looked so fucking disappointed when I was thrown into the mix with the rest of the Death Eater kids. You would've denied it, just as you would've denied using Dark Magic on me in sixth year. So spare me your sanctimonious lectures about doing the right thing. The rest of those halfwits might buy into your wholesome persona, but I know better."
Harry clenched both fists to keep from reaching for the bottle. "What does sixth year have to do with it? You were about to cast an Unforgivable. And I didn't know what that spell I used did. I would never have used it if I'd known."
"You fucking humiliated me, Potter, watching me from the shadows like a thief. It's funny that you didn't think to cast a Disarming Charm instead of curses when I didn't appreciate your intrusion. I guess you only do the right thing when there's an audience involved."
Harry wanted to disagree on sheer principle, but he couldn't come up with a reason why he hadn't just tried to disarm Malfoy in that bathroom. There must've been a reason, surely -- why had he been trying to curse Malfoy, especially after what he'd seen? The memory was a bloody, watery blur -- he only remembered that Malfoy had been about to cry out, Crucio...
"Want to know something really hilarious?" Malfoy looked up, and Harry realised with a quiver in his stomach that he was near tears. "I was going to go to Dumbledore. Moaning Myrtle had been trying to convince me to do it, to go to Dumbledore and ask him to save my parents. I had just made up my mind to try. Then I saw your ugly face in the mirror, fucking spying on my misery. Of course I'd lost the plot. By the time I came to in the hospital wing, I knew that my life was worth even less to you and your sort than it was do the D-- Tom Riddle."
"That's not true," Harry said, horrified. "It's really not. I hadn't meant to spy, or to hurt you, I-- I got carried away; I had no idea--"
"Bullshit." Malfoy dragged his sleeve across his eyes, and emptied his glass. "The only people who really matter to you are those on your side. You're no better than the rest of us."
Harry once again wanted to protest -- how could Malfoy have expected Harry to treat him like a normal human being when he'd worked his hardest from day one to make Harry's life at Hogwarts as miserable as possible? -- but he couldn't. He was sure that, given time to think about it, he'd be able to explain to Malfoy why he hadn't deserved Harry's fairness, but he couldn't just look at a person in obvious distress, drunk off his face or not, and tell him that his hurts were imagined or exaggerated.
Malfoy emptied his second glass and poured another, his eyes fixated on something behind Harry. "You know, if I could leave here? In ten years' time, we wouldn't even remember one another, Potter. We could pass each other on the street as perfect strangers. Wouldn't you like that?"
Harry said nothing. By the looks of Malfoy, he wouldn't hear it, anyway. He didn't think he'd ever forget Malfoy, no more than he would ever forget Dudley and his other tormentors from Muggle school. Their names and faces would fade to the back of his mind with time, but they'd never really go away.
Malfoy took a slow, leisurely sip of the Firewhisky -- a sure sign he was not right in the head any longer; drinking that stuff slowly was impossible. He fixed his gaze on Harry's face again and nodded solemnly, as though having received some revelation from above.
"You know, I always thought you only got in bed with Ginny because you didn't have the guts to fuck her brother."
Malfoy's head tilted down; he fell forward and hit the glass table with a dull thud, knocking over the nearly full glass of Firewhisky. A moment later, he began to snore.
Ginny's leg had fallen asleep. She pulled it out from underneath herself and jiggled it, leaning back in her chair and surveying the cluttered desk in front of her. She'd been in the team's library since evening practice had ended. Outside, dusk had given way to night. Shadows crowded around the ball of light suspended high above her.
Alex had confided that she'd thought the Hawks game had been set up, but she hadn't elaborated, and then Rita Skeeter had interrupted them. After what that horrible woman had printed about the two of them, Ginny felt really awkward about approaching Alex again. The local journalists hadn't yet picked up the memo that Rita Skeeter was a world-class liar, so they'd been circling the team like birds of prey ever since the Prophet article had been picked up by the international gossip grapevine.
Even though Ginny knew it hadn't been her fault Rita had drawn such a demented conclusion from their conversation, she still felt personally responsible for the whole mess. So she'd kept out of Alex's way out of respect.
What if my distance makes Alex think it's true, that I'm like that? Merlin's frilly apron. Not that there was anything wrong with liking women, but Ginny didn't. She'd had her share of idle fantasies involving Luna, Cho Chang, and even Pansy Parkinson, but she wasn't the least bit attracted to women in reality. But that wasn't something you could tell someone you barely knew.
She sighed, frustrated, and began to gather her notes together. Since she hadn't been able to talk to Alex, she'd decided to scour the library's game records for some more information. A "set up" game in local parlance meant one whose outcome had been predetermined before the teams set foot on the pitch. Ginny had gone over the strategy for the Hawks game and the other players' behaviour from the notes kept on file in the library.
She'd found a whole lot of nothing. The only way that game could've been fixed would be with the collusion of the entire team, and Ginny had certainly not been pulled aside and warned that they had to lose that game on purpose. And besides, what would anyone gain by losing? These were qualifier rounds for the winter season; a loss to the Hawks only meant that the Strikers wouldn't start in the top tier -- so what? They could work their way up once the tournament started. With their line-up, they had nothing to fear.
Ginny slid the sheets of parchment covered in her scribbles inside her gear bag and trudged towards the door. They had the weekend off to attend the birthday party Priya was throwing for her twins, who were turning six -- Ginny wouldn't even have to get out of bed until noon if she wanted to. She killed the light and walked across the torch-lit courtyard towards the living quarters.
As she unlocked her door, Angela stuck her head out into the corridor. "What happened?" she asked. "Practice has been over for hours."
Ginny tossed her bag onto the floor and stepped back out, holding the door open with one hand. "Spent some time in the library brushing up on team history," she said, a bit surprised at how readily the lie appeared in her mind.
She'd thought about what she would say if anyone walked into the library while she'd been there, and that had been the likeliest answer. She wasn't sure why she didn't want anyone to know what she was doing -- there didn't seem to be anything amiss, anyway.
"That's an interesting way to spend a Friday evening," Angela said. "My mom sent me a bottle of wine from home, you want to join me?"
"Sure," Ginny said, absurdly glad that her misgivings about her teammates starting to give her a wide berth since Rita Skeeter's article had been false. "Just let me grab a quick shower and change; I'll be right over."
Twenty minutes later, they sat in lounge chairs on Angela's balcony, watching a thick dark cloud pass harmlessly over their heads.
"Where's home?" Ginny asked, sniffing the wine.
She'd never had wine made from grapes before -- her parents had favoured nettle and elderflower, like any self-respecting English wizarding family. Not that there would ever be any wine in their cellar again, Ginny thought with an unwelcome pang of regret. She hoped her mother had returned home safe and healthy; Ron was supposed to call on Monday to let her know.
"California," Angela replied. "Small wizard village -- we call it a ghetto -- in Sonoma Valley."
"Ghetto?" Ginny asked, trying a sip. The wine was sour and had a strange woodsy aftertaste, nothing like the wines she was used to.
"It's mostly a joke these days. But back in the thirties, there was a Statute of Secrecy breach in the area, and all the wizarding folk were driven out of the Muggle towns they lived in. The Muggles were coming after them -- not that they could do much harm, but you know how it is with the Statute; we can't even defend ourselves properly once they know where we are. So our freshly appointed village elders signed an agreement with the Muggle leaders promising we'd never try to live amongst them again."
"What about the wizarding authorities?" Ginny asked, surprised. "Back home, if something like that happened, the Obliviators would just come and take care of it. Not that a lot of us live amongst Muggles."
"The Obliviators in our state have a lot of restrictions about what they can and can't do to Muggles," Angela said, topping up her glass. She gestured towards Ginny with the bottle, but Ginny shook her head. She got drunk easily, and she didn't know how strong this stuff was, so she would pace herself. The last thing she needed was to show up at Priya's party with a hangover.
"I always forget your government isn't centralised," Ginny said. "Must make things difficult."
"Sometimes," Angela said. "I mean, we have federal laws and the international statutes, obviously, so those take precedence. But a lot of the everyday stuff, like family registries and Muggle dealings, that's up to each state. The country's just too big, you know?"
Ginny nodded. "Yeah. It's hard to believe that your home is farther away from here than mine, you know?"
"Couldn't be far enough," Angela muttered, downing her wine.
"Sounds like a story," Ginny said.
Angela smiled darkly. "A really long one."
"You in a hurry?"
Angela took a deep breath. "I-- a little, actually." She took another deep breath and poured more wine. After drinking long and deep, emptying half the glass, she took another deep, noisy breath. "I feel like a jerk, but there was more to my invitation than just, you know, wine."
Ginny's heart sank. Here it was. Angela was going to ask her if there was anything between her and Alex. "It's about that article, isn't it?"
Angela nodded, looking at her directly. "It isn't true, is it? I mean, you aren't--"
"No," Ginny said. "No, that reporter is just about the biggest liar you could ever imagine. It isn't true at all."
"Okay," Angela said, exhaling. "I didn't think so. I mean, I am usually pretty good at telling, and I had no clue."
Ginny frowned. "Would it have been a problem for you if I were -- you know?"
Angela grinned. "It wouldn't have been a problem at all. Quite the opposite, actually."
Ginny blinked slowly, and then she felt as though the light ball from the library had reignited itself above her head. "So it isn't my imagination, then," she said quietly. "The others do avoid you just a little. And it's because you're--"
"A lesbian," Angela said. "They don't mean anything by it," she added quickly. "I don't blame them. I mean, for them it's like having to change in front of a man."
Ginny stared at her. "That's why you're always last in the showers? Because you don't want to make them uncomfortable?"
Angela shrugged. "Pretty much. I mean, I could try and explain to them that I'm a lesbian, not a nymphomaniac, but it's easier to just--"
"Bullshit," Ginny interrupted, suddenly angry. "They shouldn't treat you differently. That's wrong." She gulped the wine a little too fast and some of it dribbled onto her t-shirt. "Damn it!"
Angela laughed softly. "I appreciate the sentiment," she said. "Really. But I prefer not to rock the boat."
"Well," Ginny said, Vanishing the stain, "If you change your mind, I'll back you up."
The long pause in conversation that followed wasn't uncomfortable: it was the mysterious sort of silence that made the tiny invisible threads between people thicker and stronger.
"It's not weird to be gay where you're from?" Angela asked finally, refilling Ginny's glass without prompting.
"Maybe a little?" Ginny said. "Some Muggleborns think so at first, but overall, not really. People aren't too fussed about it -- it's nobody's business, that's how we see it. I'm surprised it's different here."
"Living among Muggles has its drawbacks," Angela said. "So do you mind telling me why you and Alex had gone to Shiki that day, when the reporter caught up with you?" she asked, surprising Ginny with the change of subject. "That's where people usually go when they don't want to be overheard," Angela clarified. "That's really why I started thinking that my gaydar failed me, once I read the article."
... confide in Angela completely and tell her about her suspicions, about what Alex had shared, and about what she had really been up to in the library earlier.
... tell her some of her misgivings about the game, but don't reveal what Alex had told her and don't tell her about the library. Sound her out.
... don't be hasty about trusting Angela just because Angela trusted her with an open secret. Excuse herself to go to the loo and give it a little more thought.
... lie outright and say she was just trying to make a friend, and she has no idea why Alex had suggested Shiki.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[XIV. Hatred | ToC | XVI. Adalbert]