Chapter: XIX. Overpoise
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Harry/Draco (intended); others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Rating: Light R
Chapter Warnings: Slight issues of consent.
Chapter Length: 6200
Chapter Summary: Draco just wants to feel better, Harry jumps out the window, Dorsey finds a role model, Narcissa wonders if she's said too much, and Ginny has unexpected guests.
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 approach Malfoy about the article, but frame it in terms of Rita Skeeter having something against Malfoy rather than Harry.]
Harry had waited in Malfoy Manor's foyer for fifteen minutes when the house-elf he'd introduced himself to earlier appeared, looking rather put out. "Young Master shall see Mister Harry Potter in his rooms. Follow Shelly this way, please."
Harry followed her up the grand staircase, frowning; he'd never been asked to go upstairs on a visit before; what was going on? "Is something the matter?" he ventured. "Shelly?"
The elf didn't slow. "Young Master is feeling unwell today." She sounded rather like she felt the illness was due to her personal failure, somehow.
"Oh," Harry said. "I, uh-- I could come back another day?"
"Young Master has ordered Shelly to bring Mister Harry Potter upstairs," she said. "Shelly must do as she is told."
"Of course," Harry said. He had a very bad feeling about this: if Malfoy was ill, why did he even agree to see Harry in the first place?
Shelly led him through enough corridors that Harry started to wonder if he was going to need an escort to find his way back out of here. Finally, they stopped at a set of double doors that, unlike the other doors Harry had passed on the way, were shut. The elf knocked. "Young Master, Shelly has brought the guest."
"Well, let him in, then," came the querulous reply from inside the room. Harry braced himself mentally, realising that if Malfoy was annoying in good health, he was sure to be worse than a nightmare now.
The doors swung inward and Shelly bowed deeply before vanishing. As Harry walked inside, the doors slammed shut behind him.
He was in a sitting room not unlike the one downstairs, though there were much fewer gewgaws on display atop the furniture and many more baby toys flung about the carpet. A door to Harry's right stood open to reveal an unmade bed and half a Quidditch poster above it -- the team name wasn't visible, but they were probably not the Chudley Cannons. Despite Shelly's report of Malfoy's illness, the bed was empty -- Malfoy stood by the enormous French window across the room, wearing a dark purple dressing gown, his hair in a frightful tangle, and staring out at the grounds.
"The house-elf told me you were ill," Harry said, uncomfortable. "I could--"
Malfoy snorted, turning around, and Harry realised he was not ill but drunk to a frightening extent: he was glassy-eyed and unsteady on his feet. His left hand was attached firmly to the heavy drapery next to the window, while his right hand gripped a half-empty Firewhisky bottle.
"'M not ill," Malfoy said. "Nice jeans."
Harry flushed, wondering if he'd forgotten to close his zip, but he couldn't check without making it obvious. "I will come back," he said, "when you're--"
"No!" Malfoy shouted. "You will tell me why you've come, first."
"Malfoy, you're drunk," Harry objected. "This isn't urgent."
"I've got to piss," Malfoy announced, and proceeded, half-hugging the wall, to what Harry assumed was the bathroom door. He hoped it wasn't the wardrobe.
Once Malfoy disappeared, Harry inspected his zip, which was not only fastened but also not even visible as his shirt was untucked. He considered taking his chances with the maze of corridors outside and leaving, but he was curious now. It seemed too coincidental that a suggestive picture of the two of them should appear in the Daily Prophet and Malfoy should decide to get blind drunk this early in the day. Perhaps Malfoy had not sold Harry to Rita Skeeter after all.
The toilet had flushed a minute ago, but now it sounded like the shower was running -- apparently Malfoy was at least making a fair attempt at sobering up enough to talk. Harry walked closer to the window and saw the Daily Prophet lying on the floor next to a stuffed monkey. The pages fanned out in a way that suggested the paper had been flung down with some force.
The photo wasn't that bad, surely, Harry thought, crouching down to peer at it once more, but the Prophet wasn't even open to the front page. Instead, it had been folded to show the society pages, where birth, death, and marriage announcements competed for attention with moving borders and occasionally grotesque artwork: a cartoonish drawing of a besheeted, grinning ghost accompanied the notice regarding the death of a Mr Benjamin Smythe; as Harry looked on, the ghost produced a speech bubble with the word "BOO" spelled out in miniature hearts.
As Harry began to stand back up, the announcement directly below that of Mr Smythe's demise caught his eye.
Mr and Mrs Peneus Greengrass
are pleased to announce the engagement of their children,
Blaise Giancarlo Zabini and Daphne Queenie Greengrass.
A summer wedding is planned.
Just as Harry realised the depth of his mistake in assuming that Malfoy's state had anything to do with Skeeter's photo of the two of them, the bathroom door opened and Malfoy edged out, still balancing against the wall but looking slightly more alert. He'd done a poor job of retying the sash on his dressing gown; it hung askew on his thin frame, exposing one of his shoulders.
"Lied to me," Malfoy growled, staring past Harry at the paper. "S'posed to be her sister, you know. Astra-- Astro-- Asteroid."
Harry rolled up the paper and rose. "Right," he said. "I'll just take this with me. You go and get some sleep, Malfoy, I'll talk to you when you feel better--"
Malfoy crossed the distance between them in two lunging steps and grabbed hold of Harry's shirt with both hands; Harry was forced to put his free arm round Malfoy's waist to keep them from falling over. Malfoy reeked of Firewhisky, though the bottle must've been left behind in the bathroom. He slipped his arms around Harry's neck, bringing their faces close. His eyes were huge, and his breath covered Harry's glasses in a fine mist.
"Want to make me feel better, let's fuck," Malfoy breathed, working his leg between Harry's. Harry could feel Malfoy's cock pressing against his thigh, and though his idle thoughts about this kind of thing usually involved hard cocks, he supposed Malfoy was far too drunk for that. Harry wasn't sure how he could manage to escape without further embarrassment -- Malfoy's sash had loosened almost fully, and if Harry were to push him away, he'd be practically naked. It didn't help matters that Malfoy's hair, wet and tangled around his face, was the same pale corn-silk colour Harry remembered from that first dream, weeks ago.
He turned his head away, panic beginning to rise in his gut -- he didn't want to see Malfoy naked, but if he didn't untangle himself soon and Malfoy kept rubbing his leg against Harry's cock like that, he'd be even more embarrassed.
"Malfoy, you're drunk, let go of me," he muttered, trying to edge away, but Malfoy laughed low in his throat and pressed closer, the water drops on his chest seeping into Harry's shirt.
"Aren't you sweet?" Malfoy sang, "Not wanting to take advantage of a drunk... Don't worry, I won't report it." He put one hand on the side of Harry's face, the fingers of his other hand digging into the muscle at the nape of Harry's neck. "You're stronger than you look. I like that."
Harry grasped Malfoy's wrist and forced his hand away, reaching back for the other one, trying desperately to move at least his lower half away from the heat of Malfoy's body: it was beginning to have just the effect Harry had feared the most, and already a thin sliver of an idea of yielding to Malfoy was taking root in the least rational part of Harry's brain.
A woman's shriek pierced the heavy, damp silence of their struggle -- it had come from the direction of the window, and Harry forcefully flung Malfoy away from himself, turning around and heading for the window before he could watch Malfoy's dressing gown fall to the floor. He saw one of the enormous panther-dogs from Cornwall House hovering over the crumpled form of a blond woman in jade-green wizard's robes -- Narcissa!
"Hi!" Harry yelled, unlatching the window, his fingers numb with fear, both for Narcissa and for his own sanity if he stayed here any longer. "Leave her alone!"
He cast a triple Cushioning Charm at his lower legs and jumped down to the grass below; the impact still hurt, but not enough to immobilise him, and he sprinted for the dog, which turned around and barked, once, as if to tell him to hurry up. It made no move away from the woman, who was sobbing loudly, a behaviour Harry would not have associated with Narcissa Malfoy.
As he stopped beside the dog, he saw that it was not Narcissa at all, but Rita Skeeter. Harry immobilised her at once. No sooner had the spell taken hold that the panther-dog backed away. It sat down and thumped its baton-like tail against the grass, looking at Harry expectantly.
"What's happened? Mr Potter, what are you-- oh my goodness!"
Narcissa had come rushing out of the house, her hair flying loose in the crisp autumn breeze. The Malfoys' panther-dog loped ahead of her; upon arriving, it immediately sat down next to the larger beast as though attempting to imitate it.
"I'm very sorry for the intrusion, Mrs Malfoy," Harry said, sending his Patronus to the Improper Use of Magic Office. "I was upstairs talking with your son when I heard a scream -- I had thought the dog was attacking you."
Narcissa nodded, staring down at Rita with a blank-faced expression. "Who is she? She looks quite familiar."
Rita rolled her eyes; Harry supposed that was all she could manage in her present state.
"Her name is Rita Skeeter," Harry said. "She's an unregistered Animagus on the run from authorities-- they'll be on their way to pick her up very shortly."
"Oh, the reporter?" Narcissa asked. "She took that scandalous picture, did she not? From this morning?"
Harry flinched slightly. "Yes; that was what I had come to talk to your son about, though I did not get very far."
Narcissa turned to look at Malfoy's bedroom window. "What do you-- oh. Draco!"
Harry followed her gaze to the entrance and quickly averted his eyes; Malfoy was strolling towards them, his dressing gown quite undone and fluttering behind him like a cape. Despite himself, Harry stared -- Malfoy's unmentionables looked exactly like Harry had dreamt, and his throat was suddenly dry as his face grew hot as dragon-fire.
"SHELLY!" Narcissa shrieked, and the elf appeared at their feet, bowing. "Take Draco back inside the house, please. I don't care how you do it, just get it done. Keep him in his bedroom until I return."
"Yes, Mistress," said the elf, snapping her fingers. Malfoy flew back into the house as though punched with an invisible fist. Harry enjoyed the sight immensely, and he thought the house-elf must have, too.
"He was quite drunk when we spoke," Harry explained, seeing Narcissa's bewildered expression. "Some bad news, I reckon."
"I'm very sorry if he's caused you any trouble," Narcissa said, her lips a thin line as she glared pure distaste down at Rita, who somehow managed to look triumphantly smug.
"No trouble," Harry said automatically, though he had no idea how he was going to go anywhere near Malfoy ever again after this. "Have you got any house-elves who can communicate with animals?" he asked, hoping like hell that he wouldn't have to bring Artie here to talk to the giant dog -- but it was the only witness they were going to have for the trespassing.
"I'm afraid not," Narcissa said. "If we did, I imagine Dorsey would be much more manageable than she is."
Dorsey gave a short yip at the sound of her name, then seemed to remember that she was supposed to look dignified and settled down after a covert glance at the larger dog.
"What's the big dog's name?" Harry asked.
"Betsy," Narcissa said. "She's from Draco's place of work -- she was badly injured yesterday, poor thing, and he's brought her here to recover. I thought it a lot of nonsense, needless coddling, but I suppose it is a lucky thing she was here. Betsy's a good dog."
Betsy wagged her tail. Harry put a hand out for her to sniff, hoping she wouldn't recoil at Artie's smell. It seemed not to bother her, and she allowed him to scratch behind a massive ear under Dorsey's jealous stare.
"Mistress, there are wizards from the Improper Use of Magic Office at the door," rasped a house-elf from nowhere Harry could see. "Shall Toby send them away?"
"No, have them come here. Thank you, Toby."
"Mrs Malfoy, could we take Betsy with us to find out what she saw, would that be all right?" Harry asked, realising that if the Improper Use of Magic wonks took custody of Rita, he could take Betsy home to talk to Artie instead of bringing him here.
"Why, I suppose. I'd ask Draco but I rather think he's not in any condition -- oh, but. Will you keep her long?"
"I will bring her back within an hour."
"Is this supposed to be my lunch?" Artie asked as Harry led Betsy into the drawing room at Grimmauld Place.
Ron poked his head in the window -- he and Hermione were de-gnoming the garden. "Merlin's holy knickers, Harry, where'd you find that dog?"
"This is Betsy," Harry explained, laying a hand on her smooth, glossy hide. "She just caught Rita Skeeter at Malfoy Manor, and I need you to find out exactly what happened, Artie."
"Brilliant," Ron said, heaving himself up onto the windowsill, leaving dirty handprints on the white paint. "I didn't know the Malfoys had a panther-dog."
"Long story," Harry said. "Artie, will you please?"
Artie stalked up to Betsy. She sniffed the tip of his tail and sneezed, sending a sheaf of parchment down from the coffee table and across the floor. Artie meowed imperiously, and Betsy wagged her tail with a low growl. Artie meowed again, and Betsy panted in reply.
"Fascinating," Hermione said, peering through the curtains. "Is it going to be admissible?"
"With the list of charges against her, the trespassing one is hardly decisive," Harry said, quill poised over a spare bit of parchment. "It doesn't need to be admissible; we just need the facts."
He did intend to report the facts as though he had witnessed them -- without actually saying so, of course -- since animal testimony was, indeed, inadmissible. However, the Aurors and the Improper Use of Magic Office were often at cross purposes, and Harry meant to make sure he demonstrated just cause for restraining someone not under Auror jurisdiction.
"She says the trespasser was a buzzy thing," Artie informed them. "A most articulate beast, don't you think? Betsy was going to eat it because it was annoying, but then it turned into a human and screamed. She says it was very scary."
Harry wrote this down, nodding. So Rita had been trying to get close to Malfoy Manor in beetle form -- she wouldn't have been able to enter the Unplottable building without being noticed, but nothing would have stopped her from peering into windows. His insides grew cold at the thought that had Betsy not been there, Rita might've witnessed the scene between him and Malfoy. Granted, she couldn't have taken any pictures as a beetle, but oh, it would have made for quite a story. It was already bad enough that she had seen Malfoy streaking across the Manor grounds as though it were perfectly natural for him to be naked in Harry's presence.
"I suppose that answers my question about the photo," Harry said, mostly to himself.
"Yeah," Ron agreed. "If she were working with Malfoy, I reckon she'd have been allowed in the house."
"Was there anything else?" Harry asked Artie after Betsy issued a low whine.
"Yes," Artie said. "She says she's thirsty and her wounds hurt."
"What wounds?" Hermione asked, alarmed.
"Another very long story," Harry said, rising. "Come, Betsy, let's get you some water. Good dog."
"You never call me a good Kneazle," Artie shouted after them.
"It doesn't have the same sound to it, mate," Ron opined.
Harry didn't hear the rest of the conversation; he led Betsy downstairs and let her drink her fill in the kitchen, and then walked her out to the nearby park to return to Malfoy Manor. He was going to just leave the dog with the house-elves, but to his surprise, Narcissa opened the door when he rang.
"It turns out her wounds have been troubling her," Harry said, handing over the lead. "If you could manage something for the pain."
"Of course," Narcissa said. "Thank you."
"Man?" said a tiny voice from behind Narcissa's robes, and Luce peeked out at him a moment later. Harry hadn't seen her in a while, and he was taken aback -- if he hadn't known she was adopted, he'd have thought her a dead ringer for Andromeda.
"Man?" Luce inquired again.
"Yes, sweetie, that is a man," Narcissa said, patting her head. "He's your cousin's godfather, Harry Potter. Do say hi."
"Pot-tah!" Luce shouted excitedly. "Pot-tah!"
"I suppose she may have heard the name uttered once or twice by her brother," Narcissa said dryly.
"Is... uh, is he all right?"
"He'll be fine," Narcissa said. "Thank you, Mr Potter -- I trust his little display this afternoon shall remain..."
"...perfectly confidential," Harry finished for her. "The Improper Use of Magic Office has assured me that Rita Skeeter will not be allowed any writing materials whilst in custody, and her only contact shall be a Ministry-appointed solicitor."
"Good," Narcissa said, though she was still frowning. "I... did not mean to offend when I called that photograph of hers scandalous. I did not think that you and Draco, perhaps--"
"We're not. At all," Harry said, determining at once to ask Hermione for a spell that would keep him from blushing so fucking obviously.
"Ah, well, that's good, I suppose," Narcissa said, and then quickly added, "Not that it would be bad, otherwise. I mean to say, oh, do forget I said anything at all." She leaned down to pick up Luce, who had been demanding it for some time already.
Harry was struck with rather the same sort of feeling he used to experience whenever Mrs Weasley attempted to sit him down and tell him about Ginny's childhood, or try to teach him how to cook Ginny's favourite dishes. "Well, then," he managed. "I really must be going-- the report--"
"Yes, yes, of course. Oh, Mr Potter, you'll be going to my sister's today, are you not? Could I trouble you to return a book I'd borrowed from her? I had meant to bring it by tomorrow, but I think I shall stay with Draco for the rest of the weekend, so..."
Ginny was plodding up the steps to her flat, exhausted from the afternoon practice.
For the last month, Priya had had all the Beaters fly complicated manoeuvres practically the whole time they were on the pitch, plus demanded all those extra upper-body workouts when they weren't flying. As a result, they were all half-dead, and clueless besides -- Ginny could see no reason for it except to keep her too busy and tired to ask any questions. At this point, she had half a mind to march herself up to Priya's office and just flat-out ask her what the hell was going on.
Nearly two months had passed since the Hawks game, and still she was nowhere. Malfoy had never written back, and though she'd asked both Ron and Hermione to find Malfoy and beat the information out of him if they had to, she'd heard nothing except the usual weather reports and updates on her mother's recovery. At least that was something good.
As she walked along the corridor to her flat, she saw Hermione sitting on the floor by the door, her nose in a guidebook on Wizarding Boston.
Oh good, I can ask her why the hell she of all people has ignored all my questions about Malfoy, Ginny thought, and then stopped dead. Had she finally lost her mind? "Hermione?"
Hermione looked up and grinned broadly as she got to her feet. "There you are! They'd said practice ended an hour ago, I was wondering what was keeping you."
Ginny dropped her gear bag and sprinted forward, hugging Hermione fiercely when she reached her. "What on earth are you doing here?"
"I'll tell you in a little while," Hermione said as she rubbed her upper arms gingerly. "You've been working out, young lady."
"Young lady my arse," Ginny said. "Come in, let's have tea. Or wine. Or water. I don't care -- I'm so glad to see you. Where are you staying? Are you staying? Do you want to sleep here? My bed's huge."
"Tea sounds lovely," Hermione said, toeing off her shoes. "Ahh, much better. I was going to stop at a hotel in town, but if you've got the room…"
Ginny let her in and hurried to make the tea, using the good stuff from back home; she was down to her last dozen bags -- very expensive to send to America, but this was a special occasion. The milk in her cold storage was still good, thank Merlin -- she'd been spending so much time at practise that most of the food she bought went bad before she ever had a chance to eat it.
She brought the tea tray out to find Hermione sitting in one of the chairs by the dining table, her feet tucked under her, still reading the guidebook. She looked quite comfortable, but her presence in this room of all places jarred Ginny, somehow -- this was home to her, and Hermione was from her other home, but somehow it didn't fit. Half of her expected Hermione to vanish and the whole thing to have been just a trick of her exhausted mind.
"I can't say much about the pertinent stuff," Hermione said, apparently mistaking Ginny's startled look for an expectant one. "We will have tea so I can warm up a bit, and then we will take a walk. So let's just catch up, all right?"
"Pertinent-- you mean about Malfoy? And the--"
Hermione shook her head very energetically, put a finger to her lips and then got up, walking over to the writing desk as Ginny looked on, bewildered. She scribbled something on a piece of scrap parchment and handed it over.
We can't talk about all that here; someone is listening to us.
Ginny's eyes widened, and she pointed to the wall, raising her eyebrows. Angela? Angela couldn't possibly be spying on her; Angela was the one who'd given her Coury's name...
Hermione shrugged and shook her head. "I don't know," she said out loud, fixing Ginny with a significant stare. "Malfoy's a slippery character, you know. Hard to catch, harder to keep hold of."
"That he is," Ginny said, setting the tray down finally. "I reckon that's how he's kept himself out of prison. What was going on in that photograph, anyway?"
"Oh, that," Hermione said, pouring the milk for them both. "Well."
"You're not going to tell me something's actually going on between Harry and Malfoy," Ginny said flatly. She'd considered the possibility, very remotely, but it just seemed wildly, ridiculously improbable. That picture had been really quite suggestive, but the Harry Ginny knew was really quite heterosexual. And besides, it was Malfoy.
"Would it bother you if there were?" Hermione asked, one eyebrow raised. "You did break up with Harry, you know."
"They do say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe in four years, I'll come back here and demand a ring from you or else."
"They also say 'out of sight, out of mind'"
Ginny looked down as she stirred her tea. She had regretted the break-up back when she'd first come here, going out of her mind with loneliness, with no one to talk to, with no purpose. But now it seemed that as far as proverbs went, Harry had had the right one. His face in the Daily Prophet photograph might as well have been that of a stranger, at first. She'd felt an ugly stab of jealousy when she'd realised that it was Harry's face, and that Draco Malfoy seemed about to kiss him, but then it had vanished, leaving behind a deep nostalgic sadness, not fierce resolve to go back and claim Harry as her own. He was not, and she did not want him to be. It made her deeply unhappy that a love she'd carried with her longer than she'd carried anything else, at this point, should have faded so completely.
"No," she said quietly. "I mean, it would bother me because it's Malfoy, not because it's Harry."
Hermione inhaled some of her tea and coughed viciously for a few moments. "You've fallen for Malfoy?"
Ginny, who had not known what to make of Hermione's reaction, nearly choked on her own tea. "Oh, dear God, no! I just mean, Malfoy's evil."
"Oh, that," Hermione said. "Well, yeah. But anyway, I don't think there's anything actually going on between them."
"You mean you don't know for sure?"
Hermione shrugged and jerked her thumb towards the wall again, mouthing, later. "All I know is that the Monday after the picture hit the Prophet, Harry handed over the Malfoy case file to Dawlish."
She took a sip of tea and launched into an obviously carefully prepared discussion of Witch Weekly's new fall fashion spread.
"You're not serious," Ginny said after Hermione had finished telling her about the entire sorry business with the money and the sponsors and the utter absence of actual sportsmanship in America. They were in a park not too far from the Quarter; the night had taken a turn for the balmy despite it being mid-October, and they were sitting on a creaky bench-swing in a playground.
"I'm sorry, Ginny, I really am," Hermione said, pulling her shawl closer around her shoulders. "I wish I could jump up and shout that it was all a terrible joke, but I've told you everything I know."
"But this information comes from Malfoy," Ginny said. "Maybe it's just a pack of lies."
"Why would he lie? To make you give up the position he helped you get in the first place?"
"I don't know," Ginny said, exasperated. "Maybe he made it all up just to mess with you lot. Slytherins, you know."
"It crossed my mind," Hermione said. "More than once. So I went to talk to him."
Ginny slammed her feet against the pavement below, stopping the swing. "You went to Malfoy Manor?"
"Last week," Hermione said, her face grim. "It's a bit nicer now that Bellatrix is dead. Anyway, Malfoy was none too pleased to see me, as you might imagine, but he was obliging enough once I told him what I wanted."
"Believe it or not, he actually seems to care about what happens to you," Hermione said.
Ginny scoffed, and set the swing in motion again. "Please. Malfoy? About a filthy little blood-traitor like me?"
"I know it sounds absurd, but I'm not that bad at reading people, you know," Hermione said. "Better at books, I grant you. But still."
"This is insane," Ginny said after a long silence. "I really can't believe it. I suppose-- I suppose…" The worst of it was, it fit -- the out-of-the-blue loss, the secrecy, Priya's ambivalence, everything. "I don't know." She sighed. "Was that why you came?"
"Partly," Hermione said. "Ron and Harry don't know I'm here."
Ginny started. "They don't?"
Hermione shook her head, and brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. "They think I'm in Australia, on an eight-month placement for the Ministry's international relations desk. I told them I had to go this month, but actually I don't start until January, and it's a six-month placement."
"I don't understand."
"They have both been making noises about coming here," Hermione said after a long pause. "You know, a whole load of nonsense about how once you learn the truth, you might get yourself hurt without their big strong selves to protect you."
Ginny snorted derisively. "Yeah, they can both get like that, can't they?"
"So I thought I would come and tell you everything we know, and, well, if you decide to do something about it, and you need my help, I have started making local contacts, you know. With the government. And if not, I dunno. I'll cook? Your mother's been teaching me how. Keep you company for a while."
"Do something about it?" Ginny asked. "What could I possibly do about something as insidious as what you've described?"
"Absolutely nothing," said a third voice, and the two of them jumped in fright. Ginny whirled to her right to face the voice, and saw Angela leaning against the oak tree there.
"Angela? What are you--?"
"I'm sorry, Ginny," Angela said. "I am an Overseer."
"Oh," Hermione sighed. "Oh, of course."
"What?" Ginny demanded, rising, reaching for her wand.
"Magic will be quite useless," Angela warned. "I did not come here for a fight, just to talk."
"The Overseers are the American secret police," Hermione said in a small voice. "I've read about them, but as they are the secret police, all I know is that they're a rather vast force serving the interests of the government."
"Just so," Angela said, approaching the swing. "We serve all the interests of the government, even if we do not agree with the government personally, which I don't. Every sports team has an Overseer on reserve; I happen to be the one for the Salem Strikers."
"But you were the one who gave me Adalbert Coury's name!" Ginny burst out. "Why did you do that, if you were against me from the start--?"
"I am not against you," Angela said, and she looked quite troubled. "I really like you, and I have not lied to you even once. I had instructions to give you Coury's name to see how far you could follow that thread; that was more about Coury than it was about you. It turned out he owes a great debt to the Malfoy woman, which was why he thought nothing of telling her the truth -- he had no idea that the Malfoys could possibly be working with the very Aurors who had taken their freedom."
"The Malfoys are not working with any Aurors," Hermione said. "That we learned of any of this at all was due to a wholly inexplicable appearance of an actual conscience in one Draco Malfoy."
"Be that as it may," Angela said, "This cannot go further, Ginny. There is a lot of money in this business. If the business were to vanish, it would cripple the economy, never mind the sports industry. And I don't mean just our economy, either. If we go down, the rest of the world goes with us. So I am telling you, drop it now. Serve the rest of your contract, return home with professional accolades to spare, and join the team you've really wished to be on all along."
"And if I don't?" Ginny asked, bristling. Her mind had not quite yet grasped that Angela -- the only person she'd come to consider a friend here -- had been a spy and a traitor all along. Though, of course, from Angela's perspective, she was in service, just like Harry, protecting the interests of her government. The thought gave no comfort.
"You mean if you do something as stupid as trying to take on the Network and thus our government?" Angela asked. There was no malice in her voice. "I can't slap you with a gag order as you're not a citizen, not even provisionally -- though they really should work that into the contracts, if you ask me, which nobody ever does." She gripped one of the metal posts of the swing and did a leisurely stretch, as though preparing for a nice night-time jog.
"Strictly speaking, I've broken several rules just approaching you about this -- my job doesn't entail negotiations; I am to observe and report. But I think of you as a friend, so I couldn't just take this back to the brass and watch them destroy your career."
"Not her life?" Hermione asked, her tone rather biting.
"No," Angela said. "They wouldn't because of her connection to this national hero of yours. He knows the score, and he would be suspicious if anything were to happen to her, and the last thing we want is a breakdown of diplomacy with England. I've read about him; I don't think he'd give a good goddamn about international relations or the world economy if anyone so much as touched a hair on Ginny's head."
A rush of fierce pride for Harry filled Ginny. "What makes you think he'd sit back and watch them destroy my career, then? Do you think he'd be less suspicious just because I'd still be alive?"
"If you're still alive, he'd have no jurisdiction," Hermione said instead of Angela. "Any government is only obligated to allow foreign investigations to take place if there has been a grave injury or a death. Harry wouldn't be able to do a thing."
"Except go to the press, yes," Angela agreed. "And as you seem to be quite well-versed in world politics, I'm sure you have heard of the Disinformation Consortium, Miss Granger."
"Yes," Hermione said, pressing her lips together in distaste.
"What's that?" Ginny asked. She felt... adrift. Like this wasn't really happening, like she'd wake up in her bed at any moment and find that it was all a terrible nightmare, that Hermione had never visited--
"The Disinformation Consortium is a state-independent body that has discretionary powers over all wizarding media," Hermione recited dully. "They usually don't get involved in anything, but if something were to threaten the wizarding world as a whole, they can and will step in to spread whatever lies or truths are necessary to make sure most people think what the Consortium wants them to think. The Disinformation Consortium is largely responsible for keeping our two wars mostly out of the world's earshot. They considered the Death Eaters a dangerous enough organisation to threaten global security and stability if allowed to establish themselves past our borders."
It all sounded like something out of the twins' spy comic books. But this was Hermione; she wouldn't make this stuff up just to scare her, and by all means it sounded bigger than Ginny could handle even if she asked every last of her friends and enemies for their help. "So basically," she said to Angela after digesting this, "You're telling me that there is no way to win. That I have to let it go, or else."
"There's always a way to win," Hermione said, defiant. "We don't have to listen to her."
"It's Ginny's ass in a sling here, Miss Granger, not yours," Angela pointed out. "Maybe you should speak for yourself."
"Hermione is my friend," Ginny said, carefully pacing her breath like they'd been taught in the meditation sessions. "Don't make it sound like she's got her own agenda. She just knows me better than you ever will."
Angela held her gaze for a few moments and then looked away with a one-armed shrug. "Fair enough. So what'll it be, freedom fighters?"
... take Angela's advice, leave the whole thing alone, and keep quiet.
... pretend to take Angela's advice but resolve to work secretly from the inside to undermine the whole operation.
... don't blow the whistle, but quit the team immediately and return to England.
... refuse to cooperate and attempt to expose the whole thing right away.
... investigate the shrubbery.
[XVIII. Yardstick | ToC | tbc Monday, May 02 (poll closes Monday, April 25)]