Chapter Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Chapter Summary: The school year is passing, Quidditch matches are held, and the Slytherins are scheming. Business as usual, right? Not quite. An encounter at the Three Broomsticks relays some troubling news to Draco; it really ought not be troubling, but it is, and Draco stops smirking. Sunday flying practice brings some resolution. Features talk of Seamus Finnigan, new Snitches, Neville bloody Longbottom, the end of the world, Firewhiskey, a confession, and unconventional use of a broomstick.
Beta: cornmouse, evilsource, goneril, oddnari
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Chapter 14 - Falling Towards Apotheosis
Draco and Blaise had drawn up a list of people in sixth year who may have been the culprit behind the photographs. After some careful observation during lessons and meals, the list was narrowed down to three people -- Wayne Hopkins of Hufflepuff, Kevin Entwhistle of Ravenclaw, and Seamus Finnigan of Gryffindor. Blaise insisted that there was no way Finnigan could have done it -- they were in the same DA group and on good terms -- but Draco was sure that Finnigan's posture was exactly like that of the mysterious photographer.
Hopkins was in Tracey's DA group and she was recruited to befriend and watch him. She'd made some noises about him not being her type, not to mention a Hufflepuff, but she'd relented in the end. After all, no one was asking her to marry the sod. Both Hopkins and Entwhistle were in Pansy's study group where she could watch them relatively freely.
Entwhistle and Finnigan were also in Pansy's DA group and while she couldn't employ the same methods as Tracey, she had an advantage in having Vincent and Gregory there; their mere presence was intimidating. That was another thing Draco couldn't figure out -- it was as though all of Hogwarts was concerned with mere appearances -- neither Vincent nor Gregory had ever been overtly violent. Their bulk and lack of cheery dispositions seemed to make people label them as bullies, based on nothing concrete.
Vincent and Gregory would make sure Pansy could stay close to the two suspects; she watched and took careful note of everything they said and did. Draco was doing double study group duty as he'd planned over Christmas -- he was attending his own Monday meetings as well as joining Blaise and Nott on Tuesdays. Potter, who was in Blaise's group, had taken to ignoring Draco again. Not that Draco minded; he was focused on overcoming Nott's bothersome tendency to prefer solitude.
Slytherin played Ravenclaw on the second Saturday of the new term. Blaise had had some reservations about playing -- they still hadn't known who'd taken the pictures. Draco and Pansy managed to coax him into his Quidditch robes and out onto the pitch with promises of chocolate and a back rub. Once he was flying, whatever problems Blaise had with being the focus of public scrutiny seemed to disappear; he seemed to fully concentrate on his Keeper duties and he hadn't let the Ravenclaw Chasers score any goals.
Draco had caught the Snitch -- the new Singleton series had a thin silvery stripe going around the middle -- very early in the game. It had been surprising, because Chang was normally a very good Seeker, but this time she hadn't even bothered to tail Draco as he raced for the catch. She'd looked sullen and withdrawn as they shook hands post-game. Draco wondered idly if she was still pining for Potter. Stupid girl obviously never knew what she wanted; Ravenclaw intelligence or not.
Due to Blaise's stellar performance and Millicent and Malcolm's teamwork, Slytherin was now neck-in-neck with Hufflepuff in the race for the Quidditch Cup. The Slytherins were buzzing with excitement -- they had a shot at the Cup after all, despite the abysmal point totals they'd had prior to that weekend's game. Even Nott had come out to the common room to celebrate with the rest of the house.
Draco's persistence with Nott was starting to pay off; the stringy boy was joining the rest of his classmates in nightly fireside discussions. They were mostly recaps of intelligence gathered on the suspects -- Entwhistle, Finnigan, and Hopkins -- but the Slytherins would also talk about Quidditch, gossip about other students, and moan about homework. Nott rarely spoke, but at least he was there, participating. Draco was sure that with time, he'd open up further. Whenever he did speak, he always offered precise insights and even Draco had to admit that Nott was very clever.
Days folded into weeks, and still the Slytherins were no closer to figuring out who had slighted them last term. Draco had met with Rita Skeeter twice, filling her in on what they'd found out. She'd promised to tail the three suspects in her Animagus form to see if she could find out anything further. The staff were presumably no closer to the truth in their own investigation of the matter; Rita was outraged. Draco just shrugged whenever she brought it up -- he knew the Headmaster wouldn't bother with trying to help them. Anyone with common sense could see that Dumbledore hated the Slytherins. Draco would never forget how he'd taken their House Cup away from them in first year merely to reward Potter's meddlesome heroics.
The Saturday after Valentine's day marked the second Hogsmeade weekend of the year. This time, all of the sixth-year Slytherins were going together, except for Nott. He had caught a cold and was forbidden to go outside by Madam Pomfrey. She'd insisted on keeping him indoors despite copious amounts of the Pepper-Up Potion. As usual, Pansy insisted on taking her entourage -- and thus Draco and the boys -- to Madam Puddifoot's. Blaise had flatly refused to go. He told Draco he'd meet him at the Three Broomsticks, should he grow tired of the garish and want to get away.
Draco did grow tired of the tea-shop and this time it was Queenie who gave him an easy out. She needed to go and meet Macmillan at the pub and Draco said he'd accompany her. They couldn't let Slytherins walk around alone; not with a lunatic photographer on the loose. Pansy put up a bit of a fight but Draco could tell it was just for show -- she seemed to have relaxed about Queenie since their grudging reconciliation last month.
Draco held the door open for Queenie then followed her out into the wind-blown streets of Hogsmeade. They walked in companionable silence down the snow-covered pathway, then turned onto High Street. Queenie tugged on her scarf and smiled at Draco.
"It's nice, isn't it?" she said.
"Just... Hogsmeade. Life. This year is so different, with the house unity projects," Queenie said, a wistful smile on her lips.
Draco made a noncommittal noise. He needed to remind Pansy that Queenie's first priority should be Slytherin, not the house unity rot. "I'm most fond of our house banding together like we have. We've never got along as well as we have this year," he said carefully.
Queenie's smile left her eyes. "It's nice," she said in a blithe tone that Draco didn't like.
"Something the matter?" he asked, looking at her sideways.
They were passing Honeydukes just as Morag MacDougal and a group of Ravenclaws were entering. Draco gave her a small wave and a grin. She grinned back and went into the shop. He turned back to Queenie, who looked thoughtful.
"Well?" he said, nudging her slightly with his shoulder.
Queenie took a deep breath, closing her eyes and seemingly enjoying the crisp winter air. "It's all a bit surreal, to be frank."
"Quite," said Draco in an agreeable tone. His sixth year did certainly have a surreal kind of quality to it. He didn't have his family behind him, he'd led Slytherin to their first Quidditch victory against Gryffindor despite the double Snitch, he owed Potter his life, there was a giant in the Forbidden Forest, he wanted to get close to Potter again... no. That kind of thinking just wouldn't do. Draco looked up and was grateful to see that they'd arrived at the Three Broomsticks.
They walked inside and Draco groaned inwardly. Blaise was there, sure enough, as was Macmillan -- they were sitting at the same table, in fact, along with Potter, Granger, Weasley, Boot, Smith, and Longbottom. Queenie hurried over to the empty seat beside Macmillan -- it looked like he'd been saving it for her.
"Draco!" Blaise called. "Come on over and have a seat, mate."
Scowling, Draco unfastened his cloak and hung it on a nearby peg. He sat down in the only other empty seat available -- at the corner of the table next to Potter, who was talking to Longbottom and paying Draco no heed.
"What Hogsmeade needs is a Quidditch shop," the pudgy boy was saying to Potter. "Every village needs a Quidditch shop."
"Also, every village needs an idiot, and you're it, Longbottom," Draco said with a smirk. The other two turned to look at him.
"Shut up, Malfoy," Longbottom said without the merest hint of a stutter.
Draco gaped at him, but recovered. "Well, as much as I enjoy listening to you making a fool of yourself, there is already a Quidditch shop in Hogsmeade."
Potter looked up with interest. "There is?"
It was the first time Potter had addressed him directly since they'd met in the dungeon to trace those photographs. The Gryffindor had avoided Draco entirely during meals and ignored his taunts during lessons. He'd paired him with Susan Bones during the DA meetings and seemed to be content pretending Draco didn't exist. His almost-friendly tone caught Draco off-guard and for a moment, it was like he was talking to Blaise.
"Yeah, Quaffles and Bludgers, right as you pass the Post Office," he replied. "Old Donegal owns it. I'm surprised you've not heard of it, considering he's a distant relation to your Head of House." Draco congratulated himself once more on his knowledge of pure-blood genealogy.
"I thought it was never open," Potter said, still in that almost-friendly tone.
Draco raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, Donegal doesn't like too many visitors. Makes good money off collectors' items, I expect. He's got connections all over."
They looked at each other for a moment, seemingly both shocked that they'd just had an entirely civil exchange without going for their wands once. Longbottom seemed even more shocked than they were -- he looked from Potter to Draco and back again, his eyebrows disappearing under his fringe.
No one else seemed to have noticed. Longbottom was still staring blankly at the two of them as they gaped at each other.
"Hey, Neville! C'mere for a second," called Weasley from across the table. His voice was oddly high-pitched and sounded out of place. Longbottom got up obediently and walked over, knocking his chair to the floor as he did so. He gave Potter a sheepish grin as he picked the chair back up. Madam Rosmerta hurried over at the noise. Seeing Draco, she broke into a wide smile.
"My favourite heart-breaker. No, no, don't tell me. Nettle wine and blackberry rum, right?"
"Yes, please, O Fairest of all innkeepers," he said and bit his lip slightly, allowing his smile to reach his eyes.
Rosmerta blushed a deep crimson and hurried off. Draco stole a glance at Potter, whose gaze seemed to have fixed on Draco's mouth.
"Heart-breaker, huh," Potter said without the slightest hint of a question in his tone. "Been here before then?"
"If I didn't know better, Potter, I'd say you were chatting me up," Draco returned, his expression deliberately stony.
Potter seemed undaunted. "'Course you've been here before. Told me to meet you. What was that all about?"
"It's hardly of any consequence now, Potter," Draco said, smiling warmly at Rosmerta who'd just returned with his wine. Draco picked the glass up and took a sip.
Potter slipped his hands around his tankard of Butterbeer and gave him a furtive look. "So, humour me then. Twenty questions. What was that scene in the dungeon all about?"
"Scene?" Draco asked. Potter seemed unable to stay on the same subject for longer than a minute.
Potter cast a glance around and leant slightly closer. "You and Blaise." Draco felt warm breath on his face, smelling like Butterbeer and... Firewhisky?
"You know, contrary to what you may think, Potter, Slytherins are human, too. We horse around with one another, except we're not as obvious about it as you Gryffindors," he said in a dignified tone. Had Potter been drinking something stronger than Butterbeer? That would explain a lot of things.
"So you were, er, horsing around?" Potter said with a smirk.
Draco matched the smirk. "Fantastic deduction, Potter. Are you sure you don't want to switch to Ravenclaw?"
Potter's eyebrows knotted and his nose wrinkled slightly in an all-too-familiar scowl. Draco glanced at Blaise, who was trying to explain something to Granger, his hands flying in front of her face with blinding speed. Smith was sitting next to Blaise, quietly talking to Macmillan and Queenie. Slytherins, a Mudblood, and Hufflepuffs. The world was ending.
Draco turned back to Potter, who had apparently followed Draco's gaze. Potter, however, was unmistakably eyeing... Smith. Draco recalled a Sunday afternoon, the same afternoon Potter had rescued him from the giant in the Forbidden Forest. Potter and Smith, circling each other on the pitch. Smith throwing his head back and laughing at something Potter had said. Oh hell no. Draco's eyes narrowed.
"So, Potter, twenty questions," he said, and the other boy turned to look at him, eyes slightly out of focus. Draco ran his finger around the rim of his glass and bit his lip. "Why did you ask about Blaise?" He smirked as Potter coloured slightly.
"Just curious," Potter said to his tankard.
"Oh, get out of it, Potter," Draco said, still smirking.
Potter made no reply and stared off to the side, where two grizzled-looking wizards were playing some strange card game. The pub was abuzz with conversation and laughter but there was a tense silence around Draco and Potter; it seemed to mute everything around them. Draco shifted in his seat and his knee brushed ever so slightly against Potter's. He wondered what the other boy would do if Draco were to hook his leg around Potter's under the table. The thought gave Draco a pleasant twinge in the pit of his stomach.
Draco sat back abruptly and finished off his nettle wine. Clearly there was something in the air that addled his brain and made him have impossible thoughts.
"Blaise," he called in a lazy drawl.
Blaise, who'd been listening to Granger deliver some sort of a lecture, looked up. "Yeah?"
"We need to meet Pansy."
Blaise nodded and started to get up. Draco rose as well and put his cloak back on. He stared down at Potter while Blaise said his goodbyes, but Potter didn't look up. He was still staring at his tankard when Draco and Blaise left the pub, heading back up the street to Honeydukes. They needed to buy sweets for the common room and Pansy insisted they help her pick out something new.
"So what were you and Granger talking about?" Draco asked, determined to keep his mind on things that were not Potter.
"An article in last month's Transfiguration Today, about incomplete transformations. Why?"
"Just curious," Draco said, and winced. The phrase made him think of Potter, who'd said the same thing to him just moments ago. Things had been going so well, why did everything have to come back to Potter again? "Do you have any idea why Potter decided to have a civil conversation with me?"
"That'll be the Firewhisky," Blaise said with an impish grin. He stuck his hands in his pockets and sidled up to Draco. "How did you manage to have a civil conversation with him?"
"Firewhisky?" Draco asked, pointedly ignoring the question.
"Yeah, they smuggled in a bottle Seamus gave them. Mixed it with the Butterbeer -- you know what that does."
Draco nodded. Firewhisky by itself didn't tend to get one drunk too easily, but mixed with Butterbeer it produced a happy feeling and a warm buzz that lasted for hours. Draco had tried it once on his own and vowed to never try again -- it had made him act nicely towards a house-elf, and the creature was so shocked and terrified that it refused to come out of its hole for two days.
"Finnigan? I hope you didn't drink it. You know we suspect him."
"Come off it, Draco, I told you it can't be Seamus. Besides, he wouldn't have known I'd be there."
"Wouldn't he have?" Draco asked, cocking an eyebrow at Blaise as they walked up to the doors of Honeyduke's. "You seem quite in with the Gryffindors lately."
Blaise rolled his eyes. "Please. I'm not in with them any more than you are. Only time I see them out of class is in the DA meetings and study groups."
"And you see a certain Gryffindor every Sunday," Draco said, not unkindly.
Blaise gaped at him for a moment, then grinned. "I should have known."
"Indeed. All I'm saying is you should watch yourself. I know you're not dumb, but we still have no idea who it was, and they sure seem to dislike you."
"I think it's more the fact that I'm gay," Blaise said in a low voice and pulled open the shop door.
Draco just frowned. Something in the way Blaise had spoken caused a tug at the back of his mind, but he couldn't figure out what it was.
A week later, Gryffindor played Ravenclaw and won by a hairline, bringing Gryffindor closer to the Quidditch Cup. It was nothing to fret about; Slytherin and Hufflepuff were still in the lead, with Gryffindor and Ravenclaw tied for second place. The final two games of the season promised to be eventful to say the least. The Slytherins had supported Ravenclaw as they always did, though Draco noticed at least two third-years cheering when Potter caught the Snitch.
The next day, Draco was supposed to meet Sheridan to go over his Defence Against the Dark Arts project. Blaise had gone off to his flying practice; Draco realised that he didn't even mind. Not only that, he felt no particular desire to join them anymore. Try as he might, he couldn't conjure up any bitterness or resentment towards the fact that he wasn't included in Blaise's Sunday routine. Draco supposed it was the certainty that when the chips fell down, Blaise would be on his side.
He collected his notes and went out into the common room. Sheridan was nowhere to be seen. Vincent and Gregory were playing chess near the fireplace. Queenie sat slumped in one of the armchairs near the two boys. When Draco walked through the doorway, she looked up sharply. Draco started to smile but she sprang out of the chair and all but ran to him.
"Draco!" she cried in a voice that was so unlike her usual guarded tone, Draco actually took a step back. He set his notes down on the table beside the bowl of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.
"What's going on, Queenie?"
She drew an unsteady breath and looked up at him with trepidation. "I have to tell you something."
Draco frowned. "Go on then."
"Oh, it's Theodore, it's been Theodore all along," she said in a shaky voice.
"What are you talking about?"
"After the Quidditch game, I didn't think it was all that horrible, and we still won, didn't we, and he promised--"
"Pull yourself together, Queenie," snapped Draco. "Are you telling me Nott is responsible for the second Snitch?"
"Y-yes," she said, eyes shining with tears. "And the photos. I'm so sorry."
Nott? Theodore Nott? A Slytherin? Draco blinked rapidly several times. "Why haven't you told me this before?"
"He p-p-promised he wouldn't--" A sob escaped her, and she swayed slightly on the spot.
Draco reached out to steady her with an awkward embrace. "Why haven't you said anything, Queenie?" he asked quietly. "Where is he? Did he hurt you?"
Queenie started crying. "He didn't -- hurt me -- we were in here -- and then --" she choked on a sob and Draco pulled her closer.
"There, now," he said in a hollow sort of voice that didn't belong to him, glancing at Vincent and Gregory. They were looking on with bewildered expressions. Queenie sniffed and drew back, wiping her eyes with the tips of her fingers.
"We were just talking and then Blaise came out. He said hi and we said hi. Theodore asked him where he was going, and Blaise said just for a spot of flying with the boys and did Theodore want to join them. Theodore said no and Blaise left and now he's gone after him and I don't know if he's going to do something..."
She pulled herself up to her full height and squared her shoulders with a shake of her head. "I should have known better than to hide it but he promised he wouldn't do anything else, and..." she trailed off and looked away.
Draco struggled to process all this new information, his mind a tumult of conflicted thoughts. So Nott had been the one behind it all, but why? What did Nott gain from betraying his housemates, from humiliating Blaise?
"Vincent. Gregory. Go get our brooms. Move." They obeyed, and Draco turned back to Queenie. "Professor Snape. Tell him to get to the Quidditch pitch." She nodded with frantic ferocity and ran out of the common room. Vincent and Gregory sprinted out of the boys' hallway. Gregory carried Draco's Nimbus 2001. Draco grabbed it and followed Queenie out the door. The two boys tore after him, through the dungeon and into the Entrance Hall, then out into the cold February air.
"Quidditch pitch," Draco called, and kicked off without bothering to look behind him. He sped through the air, bitter wind whipping his robes, lashing them painfully against his legs. He took a sharp turn towards the pitch, straining to make out airborne figures, but there were none. Draco looked down and his stomach dropped. There were three people standing on the pitch; two crumpled forms lay nearby. One of the people had a second in a choke-hold, and the third was standing motionlessly in front of them. Angry voices carried through the wind, but Draco couldn't make out any words.
He urged his broom to fly faster. He could see the people on the pitch clearer now -- Nott had Smith by the throat, his wand pointing at Blaise. Blaise's fists were clenched by his sides. He looked like he was shaking. Draco could hear what they were saying now.
"Just don't hurt him," Blaise said. Where was his wand?
"Hurt him? I'm going to kill him," Nott snarled. Draco slammed into him full force; it was the only course of action he could take.
The three of them toppled to the ground. Nott's wand flew out of his hand and he lost his hold on Smith's throat. Draco landed on top of him, pinning him to the ground. The front end of his broom was pressing into the hollow of Nott's throat. Draco narrowed his eyes.
"Thought you could get away with it, did you?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper. Nott's upper lip was twitching. Draco pushed the broomstick slightly forward. "I'd drive this right through you if it weren't a waste of a perfectly good broomstick," Draco said, and then he was being pulled off Nott by his robes. What--? Draco turned around to protest but the words froze on his lips. Snape had arrived.
Draco spat on the ground in front of Nott, who had sat up and was rubbing his throat. Nearby, Blaise was kneeling beside Smith.
"What is the meaning of this?" Snape asked. "Miss Greengrass was nattering about nefarious plots, murder, and Merlin knows what else. Why are you fighting for everyone to see? Have you no pride in your house?"
But Draco wasn't listening. He stared at Potter's prone form. There was a dark patch around his head on the grass. Several brown blades shone with red drops right below Potter's mouth. Draco felt blood drain from his face and pointed a shaky finger at Potter. Snape whirled around and swore.
"Potter. I should have known."
Snape conjured up a stretcher and loaded Potter on it. Draco couldn't bear to look away, not even as Potter's still form rose into the air, a thick, viscous string of blood trailing from his mouth. It didn't look like he was breathing. His glasses were askew and a few blades of dead grass clung to his pale skin. Draco swallowed thickly, stepping back as the stretcher floated past him. Snape ordered Vincent and Gregory to take Potter's stretcher to the hospital wing, then turned around swiftly to face the others.
"Ennervate," he said, and Terry Boot sat up, rubbing his forehead.
Snape sneered. "I think you all have some explaining to-- where is Nott?"
Draco turned his head so fast that his neck made a cracking noise.
Nott was gone.
Draco Malfoy's diary, February 23
I feel like I've been hit by the Hogwarts Express moving at full speed. I simply cannot believe that Nott was behind it all -- to think he was meeting with us and listening to us discuss our suspects. That just makes my insides twist and I hate the feeling, I hate feeling like I've been had. Blaise told me what happened -- they'd got a practice Quaffle and were going to stage an impromptu match with no Seeker or Beaters.
Shortly after they kicked off, Potter fell off his broom -- Nott had hit him with a Stunner in mid-air, except they didn't realise it at that point. The three of them flew down to him. It's interesting to note that Smith of all people had thought to guide Potter's Firebolt down to the ground as well. As Boot approached Potter, he got hit by a Stunner -- Blaise said he saw it clearly, and turned around to see where it had come from. The next moment, Nott had disarmed them both. With Potter and Boot out of the running, Blaise couldn't do much without a wand.
Apparently, Nott has gone completely round the twist. Blaise said he carried on about purity and house pride and how I had no idea what I was doing and how Smith had tainted Blaise. Nott sounded like a complete lunatic, but he had his wand at Smith's throat by that point, and Blaise dared not go for his own wand for fear of antagonising him further. Nott aparently believed that somehow Smith was responsible for Blaise's deviance. He'd got it into his head that if Smith were to die, Blaise would be straight again.
Nott was carrying on about his father and how he hated the Dark Lord for taking his father away from him. Blaise said he was practically frothing at the mouth and he was just carrying on and on, like he'd snapped or something. Blaise was edging towards his wand, then Nott started in on the homophobia. The wanker had chastised Blaise for allowing himself to be "tainted" or some rot. Blaise was trying to reason with him, and then we showed up.
At any rate, Nott seems to have fled for parts unknown. Professor Snape questioned us about what had happened and Blaise told him the story. Snape said he would tell Dumbledore about it and that we shouldn't become vigilantes, but I'll be damned if I let Nott get away with it. Eventually, he'll turn up, and then he'll be sorry he was ever born. Sanctimonious little tosser, he should be locked up in St. Mungo's for life. In retrospect, it seems ridiculous that we did not suspect him. He'd acted shifty all year, and both the Snitch incident and the way the photographs were protected from spellwork had Slytherin written all over it. It's all Potter's fault.
As for Queenie, she told Pansy the rest of the story; Pansy was just telling me all about it. Apparently, Nott's father used to work for the Apparition Licensing Office before he was sent to Azkaban. Nott claimed to have access to the information Queenie needed to learn to Apparate out of turn. It seems that Queenie's family is falling apart and she wants to flee, but has no way of leaving her home without being noticed, or something. Pansy's rather excitable about it and I think I may have missed part of the explanation in all the complicated genealogy information she trotted out.
So Nott claimed he would help her learn to Apparate, which had been the only thing holding her back from telling the rest of us what was going on. It's all Pansy's fault, clearly. Had she not been so horrid to Queenie since day one, she never would have made friends with that lunatic. I expect she knows that quite well, she certainly looks guilty whenever she talks about Queenie. What a Sunday.
I am not worried about Potter. In fact, I'm going to go walk by the hospital wing to see if he's died yet.
1. The phrase I used for the chapter title is from a roguelike game, Tales of Middle-earth.
2. Quaffles and Bludgers and its owner Donegal are lifted with permission from pen_and_umbra's brilliant Harry/Severus novel-length, Conduits of Sorcery.