Chapter: XVI. Adalbert
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: Very light R
Chapter Warnings: None.
Chapter Length: 3600
Chapter Summary: Ginny thinks she's found the missing link, Harry can't sleep, Blaise has all the wrong ideas, and Draco gets a letter he does not expect.
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 tell Angela 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.]
"Well..." Ginny said, hesitating. When she and Alex had discussed this, Alex had done quite a bit of the talking. If she were to volunteer information to Angela, it might look like she was trying to cause trouble. But she also didn't want to make Alex look like some kind of conspiracy theorist.
"You don't need to tell me if it's private, obviously," Angela said, waving a hand at her. "I know I'm prying."
"Well, not really private, no," Ginny said. Angela had been on the team at least as long as Alex, maybe she would know something. "It was about the Hawks game."
"Do you think it was fixed, too?" Angela set her wineglass down and leaned forward a bit.
Ginny felt her face flush and felt grateful for the darkness. "I don't know if I'd go that far. But there was something... odd." She thought back to the conversation she and Angela had had ages ago after practise, when they'd overheard Priya talking to that man -- Kurt something-or-other. "The night Priya told me I'd be playing against the Hawks, I forgot my gear bag in her office. When I came back, I accidentally overheard her talking to someone over the Floo. I didn't hear much, but it sounded like she wasn't happy about putting me in the line-up. It gave me a weird feeling."
"Do you know who she was talking to?"
"Someone named Burke or Bert -- something along those lines."
"Bert?" Angela leaned back in her lounge chair and crossed her legs, stretching. "The only Bert I know of is Adalbert Coury. Nasty little man, temper like a snake's. He was one of the Strikers' original financial backers. I thought he was out of the picture, though."
Ginny narrowed her eyes. The name sounded very familiar, but it wasn't anyone she'd ever met. Where had she heard it before? No, that wasn't right. She hadn't heard it. She'd read it, and written it. It was the name Malfoy -- then Laura -- had given her to use in her application letter.
Harry heard his shower running as he walked upstairs after arriving from work. It surprised him: Ron and Hermione were supposed to be gone for the day. Neither of them would use his shower, anyway; they had their own.
He pulled his wand out and carefully stepped over the creaky floorboard right before the door, which stood open. Funny; he remembered shutting it before leaving that morning to keep Artie out -- he'd made great strides in learning to read and was determined to make Harry's private letters his practice material. Books, according to Artie, were boring because they were full of lies.
A set of robes had been flung onto his unmade bed; atop them lay a bright red ribbon. One of Ginny's.
"She's back," Harry thought, elation fizzing in the pit of his belly. "She's home."
Harry didn't know what to do. Should he wait for her to come out? Should he knock on the bathroom door and let her know he was here, so she wouldn't be startled? Should he just join her? She would have liked that, before they'd broken up. But the last thing he wanted was to presume too much too soon. Even if his best hope bore out and she had come back to him, she would want to talk.
He approached the bathroom door, pocketing his wand, and knocked.
"Harry?" Ginny's voice called. "Is that you?"
Heart thudding, Harry croaked, "Yeah." It was barely audible. He cleared his throat and repeated himself. "Yeah, it's me," he said. "I didn't know you'd be here."
"Don't be silly; I told you this morning that I was coming home early. Why are you still out there?"
This is a dream, Harry realised. A dream in which Ginny had never left. Whatever it was, he'd take it. Loosening his robes, he opened the door and stepped inside the bathroom, which enveloped him in thick, palpable steam. He could just make out Ginny behind the shower curtain; her back to the door, her hair as long as it had been before she'd cut it for her trip to America. It hung down in strings that she would later comb carefully by the dressing mirror while Harry watched.
The curtain began to glide aside on its own, and Harry's cock began to stir as Ginny appeared out of the mist before him. His glasses were covered in steam from the shower, and he took them off. As usual in dreams, the glasses were merely a prop to be discarded; he could see just fine without them. He reached for the collar of his robes, intending to yank them off, when Ginny turned to face him.
Her breasts were gone, replaced by a flat boy-chest. The face wasn't Ginny's; it was Ron's -- Ron's bright blue eyes, Ron's open, guileless smile. The hair on his head wasn't flame-red; it was a very pale brown, almost grey -- the sort of colour white-blond hair must have turned when wet. Malfoy's hair
The steam began to suffocate him as Harry fought not to look below the creature's navel. He backed away even as it called to him in Ginny's voice: "What is it, Harry? What's wrong? Are you unwell?"
Harry's eyes snapped open into the comforting, cool darkness of his bedroom. He flung the duvet cover away with so much force that poor Artie, who'd been sleeping at Harry's feet, leapt several feet into the air with an indignant meow. He landed on the floor, growling a little, his eyes shining like coins, then leapt back up onto the bed.
"Settle down, will you?" Artie grumbled, curling up again. "Your silly fake sleep-reality is really too much trouble for a decent feline to handle. You ought to pay me a fairer wage, you know. I read about it in one of your fake books. Felinism, it's called. I don't know what it means, but it sounds like a good deal for cats."
Having delivered this small speech, Artie was asleep again in a matter of seconds.
Harry, still grinning, settled back against his pillow, savouring the cool air on his sweat-soaked skin. He couldn't even remember what life was like before he'd found Artie. Had this happened before Artie, he'd lay brooding in the dark for hours before he would be able to sleep again. Now, no matter how horrible the nightmare, Artie knew just the thing to tell him to make Harry relax.
As nightmares went, this one hardly rated a three on a ten-point scale, but it had been... mortifying. Uncomfortable. Harry's insides twisted at the recollection -- Ginny's voice, Ginny's smooth back and buttocks, but Ron's face and Malfoy's hair, and God knew whose front. The thing beneath the navel had certainly not been Ron's; Harry had seen that enough times. He felt -- disgusted. No, that wasn't right. He wasn't disgusted at what he'd seen -- he was disgusted at himself for not having lost his half-hearted hard-on after seeing it. It reminded him of the time he'd eaten frog meat -- the taste had been fine, but awareness of what he was eating had made him feel vaguely guilty for enjoying it. Now, there was a dark, dark desire uncoiling in his gut, unwelcome, incomprehensible, alien.
He supposed it was a leftover of what should have been the beginning of a wet dream -- he didn't have those as often now, but they still happened with some regularity. That they didn't always feature Ginny had been a source of guilt for him, too. After they'd broken up, he'd often wondered if perhaps he had once -- or more than once -- called some other girl's name in his dreams, and that had tipped the balance for Ginny. But he'd never dreamt of a man -- not that he could remember. The guilt he felt over this went far beyond vague.
It's Malfoy's fault, Harry thought. He'd said that about Ron, and my brain just ran with it.
But it hadn't just been Malfoy. Harry wouldn't have started to think about it had Malfoy not brought the idea up drunkenly, sure. But when he did think about it, the images and ideas of him and Ron together in a way they'd never been together before had sprung into his mind so quickly as to have been fully formed and waiting for acknowledgement, maybe for years. That was what bothered him so much. That Malfoy may have been right on some level.
"Ridiculous," Harry muttered, very quietly so as not to wake Artie. As the images began to fill his head again, unconcerned and gleeful like schoolchildren finally allowed into the yard at recess, he struggled to focus his thoughts in another direction. He was not going to lie here and think of having sex with his best friend. Instead, he started thinking of what he was going to do about his little interview with Malfoy the day before.
Zabini had returned about an hour after Malfoy had passed out in a puddle of Firewhisky. Which Harry had mopped up as best he could with a dirty dish rag he'd found beneath the sink -- the last thing he wanted was for Malfoy to get half his face burnt off and then complain to Robards that Harry had caused it to happen.
"Did you get what you wanted out of him?" Zabini had asked. His earlier glibness had gone; he'd regarded Harry with a blank, matter-of-fact expression.
"More or less," Harry had replied. "Thanks for stopping the fight. You did the right thing."
"I know," Zabini had said. Then he'd placed Harry's wand on the table next to the Firewhisky smears, gathered Malfoy up into his arms like a child, and carried him out without another word.
It had struck Harry as absurd -- they were wizards. Zabini could have easily levitated Malfoy out of the room. But the two of them meant something to each other, didn't they?
Later, back in his office, amid Artie's increasing demands to go home for dinner, Harry had stared at the blank page that should have been his report of the incident. In the last year, he'd seen so much of the pain and destruction caused by the Death Eaters, festering like open wounds on the fabric of wizarding society. It had filled him with bitter loathing of a sort he hadn't known -- before, when all his days were spent trying to fight against Voldemort's influence, and then trying to stop Voldemort's war from progressing, he'd been focused on himself and his friends, and he'd felt powerful.
In the face of broken families, of once cosy homes gutted by Snatchers and Death Eaters looking for blood traitors and Muggle-borns, of lingering fear that the horror would return, he had felt a helpless fury. It had sent deep roots through him -- the injustice, the suffering, yes, but most of all his own inability to do anything to fix things. Hermione had once timidly suggested Harry had a "saving-people-thing". The remark had incensed him then, but he had come to understand he did have such a thing, didn't he? At the root of all his ambition lay a desire to save others from harm.
That ambition, that desire was the fuel that powered his hatred of the Death Eaters and everything they stood for. But somewhere along the line, he had let himself forget that Death Eaters were people, too, and that the world, as Sirius had told him, was not split into good people and Death Eaters. Many of them had families. Many from those families had turned up to fight on Harry's side when Slughorn had come back to Hogwarts on the evening of the battle. They weren't all the same, and for Harry to write them all off as rubbish had been unfair. It had almost turned him into the kind of person he most detested -- like Dolores Umbridge, with her neat little boxes to cram people into, with her singular ideas of what was right and good, and what was to be punished.
It had taken Zabini's odd, tender gesture of carrying Malfoy out of the kitchen for Harry to realise the depth of his mistake. Malfoy's words had started the job well enough, though. Malfoy and Zabini were both gits of the highest order, but neither of them had murdered anyone or destroyed any families or broken into any homes, and Harry wasn't sure any more if they would have, given the chance. Perhaps what he needed was a change of perspective.
Draco wished that he could detach his head and place it on a nice glass shelf until it sorted itself out. The pain was everywhere; in his ears, in his temples, behind his eyes, under his tongue, at his throat, at the back of his head where it pounded incessantly, making it feel like there was a tiny, but very angry gnome inside the pillow, one to whom Draco -- or Draco's head, more precisely -- had done great harm.
His mouth tasted like Mrs Skower's, and his limbs felt so heavy he was sure he wouldn't be able to lift even a finger. He groaned as something began to yank him upwards, and Draco realised the angry gnome was not inside the pillow at all: it was in his head. His eyes snapped open at the revelation, but the bright light hurt so much that he closed them again, trying to sag back onto the pillow, but there was an arm around his back and something cool and smooth pressing against his lips.
"Drink," Blaise's voice ordered.
It sounded distorted and far away, but it made the gnome's pounding even more insistent. Maybe the gnome actually wanted to get Blaise but had somehow ended up in Draco's head. As Draco opened his mouth to suggest this, smooth liquid poured in. He swallowed half of it and began to splutter and cough as his taste buds kicked in -- there was nothing quite like Blaise's trademark aniseed-based anti-hangover concoction.
A moment later, the fog, the pain, and the gnome dissolved, and Draco opened his eyes again. This time, he found the light to be quite pleasant. It was a dull grey day outside, and the curtain -- again the damned curtains; just how far off was Blaise's wedding, at this rate? -- hung limp in the slightly damp air. Blaise sat cross-legged next to Draco, his dressing gown wrinkled as though he'd slept in it.
"'Time is it?"
"Eleven in the morning," Blaise said.
Draco jumped. Bad idea; the potion had not yet travelled all the way through his body, and both his arms ended up flopping out at strange angles, one hand landing squarely on Blaise's crotch.
"Oh?" Blaise breathed into his ear. "Is it that time already?"
"Berk," Draco admonished, removing his hand with as much dignity as he could manage. "My mother, she--"
"Relax. I sent her an owl yesterday saying you had a bit too much to drink and would stay over."
"Oh," Draco said. Last night? "Eleven, you said. As in, the next morning? Tomorrow? Today? I mean, the morning after yesterday?"
"Yes, the morning after your most delightful reconciliation with Harry Potter."
Draco winced as his voice reached a pitch his head couldn't quite handle yet, potion or no potion. He remembered little of what had happened before he'd started drinking. It would come back eventually -- terrible memories always did, no matter how much you drank -- but for now he remembered shouting, and anger, and maybe tears. Surely not tears. Not in front of Potter, not again.
"Mmm," Blaise said, falling onto his back but keeping his knees raised so Draco couldn't see what was going on down below. "You two got to be the best of friends after you'd had a few drinks. If you know what I mean."
Draco stared at him, horror-struck. "Please don't. This talking thing you're doing. Stop it."
"What's the matter? I'm only telling you that I walked into my kitchen yesterday and found you giving Potter's cock a very enthusiastic tongue bath."
Draco pressed his hands to his ears. "I am not hearing this. If I don't hear it, it's just like you didn't say it. God rest ye, merry Hippogriffs--"
Blaise snorted. "You still can't carry a tune."
"I can't hear you!" Draco shouted. Had he really? With Potter? Had he-- but why? "You're lying," he said, putting his hands back into his lap. "I don't even fancy Potter." Do I? "Not even a little." Not even a little?
"All right, I was lying," Blaise said, grinning insufferably. "But your reaction was worth it."
"You are the worst," Draco growled, and then exhaled -- whether in relief or disappointment, he couldn't quite tell. He certainly wouldn't try to tell. "What really happened?"
"You drank half a bottle of Firewhisky and fainted dead away. That was how I found you. Potter left as soon as I gave his wand back, so I'm guessing you didn't do anything illegal, or he'd have brought you in, I'm sure. What do you think happened?"
"I think," Draco said, yanking at Blaise's dressing gown, "that after that stunt, my cock deserves a nice tongue bath."
Draco walked out of the Manor's main fireplace and immediately headed upstairs to leave the bag of patient files Danna had given him to study in his bedroom. They were protected against outsider eyes by the same magic that guarded Draco's tongue, but though no one could read them, he suspected that an enthusiastic baby or an equally energetic puppy could still destroy them.
As he came back downstairs to say hello to his mother, the aforementioned baby and puppy raced toward him -- both on all fours. It might have been Draco's imagination, but he could've sworn Dorsey was holding back to let Luce win. She reached him just a few seconds before Dorsey and clambered up to her feet using his leg for support, her fingers gripping his robes so tightly that Draco feared she'd rip them apart.
He picked Luce up and bounced her gently above his head; she howled laughter as he caught her, and then Dorsey, leaping up to put her paws on Draco's chest, nearly toppled them.
"They are both getting way too big for such horseplay," Narcissa said from the drawing room. "One day Dorsey will tip you right over."
"That's all right, as long as she doesn't pour me out," Draco said.
Dorsey sat down at his feet and thumped her tail against the floor, as if to say, what nonsense and gibberish; I would never pour anyone out.
"Well, I've got something that just might," Narcissa said, holding up a letter with -- Draco's heart gave a jolt -- international markings.
Draco moved Luce to his left arm and took the letter with some trepidation. "What does it say?"
"Mama," Luce said, giving Draco's hair a good, solid yank.
"Ouch," Draco said, and made a pitiful face. Luce giggled. Draco turned to Narcissa again. "Well?"
"I am not in the habit of reading your private correspondence, Draco," Narcissa said. "Give me the child. I am sure you will share the news if it's worth sharing." She left him standing at the foot of the stairwell and carried Luce back into the drawing room.
Dorsey made a move to follow, but then sat back down at Draco's feet, as though deciding to offer him some doggy moral support.
"I appreciate the thought," Draco told her, shaking the letter cautiously. What if there was itching powder in it? What if Ginny had got even angrier after he wisely did not acknowledge her Howler? What if she'd wanted him to apologise? He hadn't even considered that.
Dorsey barked. Her eyes said, just open it already. Of course it was not possible for dogs to communicate such complex thoughts with their eyes or otherwise, but Draco had found lately that ascribing his own thoughts to Dorsey made him feel a little less guilty for some of them. It also made him slightly more decisive. He tore the letter open at the seal.
Tell me who Adalbert Coury is, how you know him, and what you know of him. I think you'll agree I deserve to know that much.
Draco glanced towards the drawing room. Having his mother say, I told you so could wait. First he had to work out how to use this to his advantage, if he could.
What he really wanted was to go to America and tell her himself, but there was no way he could possibly do that, not with Cornwall House. That was more important -- if he served his time as planned, he could go to America for as long as he wanted. But that would probably be too late for this. Could she wait until Christmas? He could fill her in over drinks when she came back for Christmas break. But that was three months away. Still, three was better than seven.
Denying the request was not an option -- he wanted to be useful to Ginny; he didn't particularly care if Coury's balls got eaten by bat bogeys. But his mother would care about that. Maybe.
Wait, why did Ginny want to know? What had Coury done? And how could Draco find out?
... offer to meet with Ginny over Christmas break to discuss the matter; don't forget to mention casually that he may have to visit the Burrow anyway for work.
... write back and tell Ginny that he'll tell her what she wants to know if she tells him why she does.
... get in touch with Coury and ask some questions about how Ginny had been doing, then decide what to do next based on what he learns.
... do nothing at all. Ginny's Howler did threaten unimaginable horrors for his unmentionables, so how does he know this isn't some kind of twisted revenge plot? If she writes again, reconsider.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[XV. Essence | ToC | XVII. Redux ]