Possible Spoilers/Warnings: N/A
Author's Note: I simply don't have the words to express my immense gratitude to the mods for being incredibly, seriously patient and amazing. Have ♥♥♥ where English fails me. To my mystery recipient, I hope you like it. I didn't know how to make it too AU without being unrecognisable as Harry Potter fanfic, but some of the death count of Deathly Hallows is toned down, and Fred Lives (and so does Lupin in a cameo) because it wouldn't be this fic without him and George. I must apologise for the explosion of A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones references. They've all been explained in the end-notes of the fic, and it doesn't have any real bearing on the plot or understanding of this fic, except as a Mythology Gag.
Summary: When Fred and George decide it's a good idea to organise a medieval-themed tournament, chaos and mayhem ensues. There's cider instead of Firewhisky, the most deceptively innocent Daily Prophet reporter recording their progress, and a Thestral that just won't do what it's told.
A Game of Thrones
The first question on everyone's mind was the simplest one: where had the gold come from?
Fred and George would just smirk whenever they were asked about it, much like the time they'd started their joke shop and bought the whole family expensive presents. Naturally, Harry was the first suspect.
"Maybe we shouldn't have broken up," said Ginny musingly, when they met up for thick, foamy Butterbeers at the Leaky Cauldron. Hannah Abbott was pretending not to listen from behind the bar, and Harry looked tired from a new onslaught of scars. Being an Auror transformed him from the lanky boy she had once loved to a dashing man whom she loved in a different way. "If I'd known you were so rich you could throw away Galleons like that..."
"Big mistake you made there," he agreed. He had taken the break-up harder than she had. She was good at letting water slide off her back; Harry was the one who didn't quite know how to let things go gracefully. "Bet you cry into your pillow at night over it."
"Every night. Drench the pillow case in a flood."
"Or maybe it's just your drool."
Ginny laughed and downed what was left of the Butterbeer in one gulp. "So. Will you do it? Will you be my partner?"
He mimed wiping off a foam moustache, and she licked it off her upper lip. She saw his eyes linger. Or maybe it was just him thinking over what she'd asked. She crossed her fingers tightly under the table.
"Okay," he said. "I will."
She grinned, already able to taste the savage triumph. "You're half-Muggle, Potter. We'll smash the competition through the wall."
This was the first time the magical world had seen anything like it, and Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes was glad to bask modestly in the glory. They were going to call it Medieval Muggle Madness March, when Harry (who really was half-Muggle these days) suggested it would be catchier to name it "A Game of Thrones." Ginny didn't see why; there was no throne involved. The twins promptly sought to remedy the situation by creating two hideous gold-plated chair-monstrosities, from which they would commentate. It was as if they thought this was Quidditch at Hogwarts all over again.
"We can't be the judges ourselves now, can we, little sister?"
"If we were, our little sister would score the lowest in every event."
"You'll do no such thing, or I'll tell Mum what you did with Angelina and that that bowl of pancake batter." (To her surprise, both Fred and George looked guilty at that one.)
It was going to be a tournament for wizards, conducted entirely without magic. It was the stupidest thing Ginny had ever heard of, and at the same time, she was unreasonably excited about entering it. There would be seven rounds, after the powerful magical number ("And because we couldn't be arsed to come up with more," Fred would later tell the Daily Prophet, which was eagerly covering every second of this madness. "Not to mention," George added helpfully, "the cost. We don't breathe [sic] gold, you know.")
Each round consisted of an event that was straight out of the life of a medieval Muggle. Harry had been consulted extensively on this matter. Hermione (everyone's first choice) had given a depressingly realistic and historically accurate run-down of what medieval Muggles actually did. In contrast to that, Harry's fanciful romantic impression of the time was much more exciting. The seven events were going to be: archery, farrier, gold, hunting, shipping, strategy, and tourney. One of these events would also double as the "turncoat" round, but Fred and George smugly said the details were a surprise.
The prize money was probably the biggest draw. Three thousand Galleons would be awarded to the winning team. Bill chuckled when he heard it; he said it was the same as the Triwizard Tournament pot, only adjusted for post-war inflation. ("That's how you pay a debt with interest," he said.)
Anyone who was of age could participate, and the response was overwhelming. "Not everyone can make it through, the poor things," Fred told the Daily Prophet, or rather, the reporter's ample chest. "Only seven teams will make it past the first round. After that, one team is progressively eliminated as each round happens." Participants were allowed to come in teams of two, and a pair of joint winners would be declared.
"Is it true that Harry Potter is taking part?" asked the Prophet reporter.
"Absolutely," said George. "Personally, we told him, 'Mate, you're the Chosen One. You're going to intimidate the competition right off the bat. Hang up your cloak and we'll be happy to bring you on as a guest commentator every now and then."
"Because he defeated the Dark Lord—" The reporter, a former Slytherin and probably the daughter of some former Death Eater, had blushed when Fred and George snickered at the appellation. "Because he defeated V-Voldemort, you believe no one else stands a chance against him? Isn't that a bit arrogant of you?"
They had seemed a bit shocked at that, but recovered quickly when they figured out the misunderstanding. "Oh, we're not saying that because of him," said Fred airily. "He's all right. Great to play Quidditch with and all."
"We're saying that he's teamed up with a complete monster. She's the one you should beware of."
The Daily Prophet now dedicated a whole page each day to coverage of the Game of Thrones. Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes was seeing a sales boom like never before. Blaise Zabini seemed to take perverse pleasure in reading every square inch dedicated to the tournament.
"No mention of you," he told Draco. His tone would have been nonchalant to anyone who didn't know him; Draco heard the laughter dripping from each syllable. "Such a pity, won't Pansy be disappointed now."
Draco thought it was bad form to mock a man under his own roof; naturally, that was why he held back his devastatingly witty riposte. "Who cares? Let Potter get bogged down by all the expectations. I'm going to ride in and yank the rug out from under him, and then there'll be plenty of talk of me then."
"You'll be the dark horse," agreed Blaise, lowering his gaze to his newspaper, a threat of a smile on his lips.
The countryside whipped past the window of the train as they inexorably made their journey northwards. Portkeys had been ruled out because they were a form of magical transportation. London was just a speck on a map as the train carried the hundred initial qualifying participants to the location of the first event. The amiable (it was definitely amiable and not mocking at all) silence was interrupted only when their compartment door was thrown open with a loud rattle and Pansy charged in.
"Only ale and lemon tarts on the food trolley," she growled, throwing herself down next to Draco. She put her feet up in Blaise's lap, her stiletto heels dangerously close to impaling him. Unperturbed, he politely moved her feet off himself and onto the empty seat beside him. "No Firewhisky, no Cauldron Cakes."
Draco fished out a Chocolate Frog from his pocket, and she gratefully bit into the candy with relief. She tossed him the Famous Wizards card in afterthought. He checked it curiously (Hermione Granger, who never changed her name to Weasley) and passed it to Blaise instead.
"They're taking this authenticity thing a bit too far," she went on. "I heard someone say there's rabbit and stew for lunch."
"It's not so rigorously authentic either," said Blaise. "We are travelling by train."
Pansy looked surprised. "Medieval Muggles didn't even have trains?"
Draco shuddered, summarising what they were all thinking of those heathens.
Just by looking at the turnout for the opening ceremony and the first round of the Game of Thrones, one could be forgiven for thinking it was the Quidditch World Cup finals, with everyone gathered to watch England trounce France for the first time since 1982.
"But without all the shocking pink robes," Fred was quick to add for the benefit of the Daily Prophet's readers. He was rather facetiously referring to the team colours of the Quiberon Quafflepunchers, France's best team, whose membership overlapped heavily with the national team. "We like to see all that pink elsewhere, if you know what I mean."
The Prophet reporter probably didn't, but blushed anyway. George looked at her outfit (which matched her face) and wondered if she had any Fleur Delacour in her. "There was some pink," he argued, butting in. "In that lighting, Fawkes looked a bit like someone dipped him in candy floss."
"Candy floss that was on fire."
"I'd rather eat that than use pixies in anything ever again. They can keep their poxy dust, thank you very much. I'd rather keep my ba—"
"Bacon," finished Fred, acting like the good twin with the wits about him for a change.
Nonetheless, it was a huge success. Harry Potter got a big section to himself. His glasses were slightly foggy from the time the ice breathers had momentarily turned the stadium into a winter wonderland, but he was grinning as he gave the Prophet a pre-game interview. He was partnered with Ginny Weasley, famously his ex-girlfriend and sister of the organisers. She didn't seem to like that bit and stormed off when she was asked if she and Harry had a double bed or twin ones in their new accommodation, and whether kindling those old flames would improve their tournament performance.
(Harry looked a bit troubled at that, and he was distracted even when answering more questions posed to him. A little further away, they could see her crashing into a darkly-dressed blond man and heated words were exchanged in a fit of rage. "Isn't that Lucius Malfoy's son?" asked the Prophet reporter, and Harry frowned. "How do you know my name?" he asked rhetorically, if not stupidly. "Shouldn't I be Lily and James Potter's son, too? Or Albus Dumbledore's man? Those sound better." The reporter didn't have the heart to tell him that the Boy Who Lived or the Chosen One sounded much cooler than both of those options did.)
Neville was quoted in the paper saying he liked the manticore bit the most from the opening ceremony, and that he'd look forward to encountering one in the tournament. (His girlfriend and teammate, Hannah Abbott, could be seen in the background of that photograph, laughing hysterically.)
The opening ceremony might have been an overdose of magical flamboyance (with a generous side-order of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes products), but it was the last display of it anyone would see until the end of the tournament. It was going to be all Muggle from there on. Wands weren't allowed, and the points would be docked for even accidental and spontaneous use of magic. The events in question were all on a simple win-lose basis, so there would be no need for a panel of judges. However, a guest judge would appear for every round in the commentator's box with Fred and George. For the first one, it was international Quiddictch sensation and captain of the Hollyhead Harpies, Gwengog Jones.
Ron Weasley seemed less defensive about his last name when interviewed. "Counts as a point against me," he'd told the Prophet. "Knowing those two, I'd probably never win if they had anything to say about it." He was probably referring to the famous Weasley impartiality, wherein his older brothers had been quoted as, "We'd rather undergo the cure for spattergroit than let our little sister cover herself in any more glory. It's not right, you know, she's small and vicious. Girls should be like Angelina, not the gnomes in our garden."
Angelina must have been a reference to Angelina Johnson, George Weasley's wife, Chaser for the Montrose Magpies, and another participant. She was quoted as saying her favourite event would be the jousting tourney. Her partner, fellow Chaser on the same team, Alicia Spinnet, had given such a wicked smile at that, that Ron Weasley had better hope to first shore up some immunity from elimination during the chess event.
Round One: Robin Hood
The first round was called Robin Hood, a name familiar to most magical folk, though many were surprised to learn he was no longer alive. It was an archery event and the rules were simple. Each of the hundred teams would be given ten quarrels and a crossbow. Each competitor would have five chances to shoot an apple off their teammate's head. The seven teams that finished the task with the most successful shots in the shortest time would go on to the next round. Naturally, all safety precautions were taken (using magic, of course) with a Healer on standby.
"Honestly, you'd think that if they went to all the trouble of doing any research, they'd at least finish the job," Hermione was heard saying. "It's William Tell, not Robin Hood. Why even bother calling it Robin Hood, it's not like wizards could tell him apart from Robin Hood."
Part of her nervous fast-paced complaining could be attributed to the fact that she was positioned on a thin plank of wood, a hundred feet above the ground, while her teammate was similarly suspended on an even thinner plank of wood, fifty feet away, armed with a crossbow. A shiny red apple was balanced precariously atop her suspiciously straight hair.
"Hermione," grunted Ron, "will — you — please —hold — still?"
This was a bit hard to do, because the plank on which she stood was slowly rotating.
Many missed their shot; one poor wizard accidentally fired his into his teammate's shoulder. The quarrel passed harmlessly through, but he lost his confidence for the remaining two chances. Cho Chang lost her footing on the plank, but the apple was enchanted to stay on her head even as she fell. As she hung one-handed from the plank, trying to haul herself up, Padma Patil calmly shot the apple off. The impaled fruit shimmered and glowed and then disappeared, only to be replaced by another one. The second quarrel punched through it almost at once.
"Close your eyes and think of England," was Harry's advice to Ginny when it was their turn.
Draco wondered aloud to Pansy if that was what Weasley had thought to herself during her relationship with Potter. Pansy's appreciative snicker soothed his ego, where Weasley had bodily punched him a few hours earlier. ("Collided with you," corrected Blaise, unimpressed by Draco's description of events. "I didn't see any flying fists." That was only because Malfoys were too gentlemanly to hit girls.) Those gentlemanly apprehensions carried over to their turn on the planks. Pansy put an end to it at once by shrieking, "Draco, you have five seconds to make all five shots, or you will not like what I'll do to you with a turkey baster." Spurred by the laughter of an entire stadium, a red-faced Draco followed through. The laughter turned to applause when he managed to make it in just under twenty seconds.
To no one's surprise, Chang and Patil placed first in Robin Hood. As they high-fived each other victoriously and blew kisses to the crowd, Gwengog argued for giving them an extra point for flair alone. The other six teams to make it through were Alicia Spinnet and Angelina Johnson, Draco and Pansy, Hannah and Neville, Harry and Ginny, Hermione and Ron, and Justin Finch-Fletchley and Terry Boot. Harry and Ginny's scores ushered them into the qualifying bracket a hair's breadth above Colin Creevey and Romilda Vane. Ginny let out an exultant whoop and jumped up, throwing her arms around Harry's neck. "Winning!" she yelled, landing a loud smacking kiss on her partner's nose, which created a commotion in the commentator's box above them. Harry, for his part, was cursing the Weasley genes, which made her almost as tall as he was.
Afterwards, the seven teams were relocated from the magical tents they'd been staying in, to permanent accommodation. The stadium was just outside the magical village of Castamere. Castamere Hall, an old but dilapidated manor given to public trust, was let out for the tournament's purpose. It was spacious enough to house ten times their current number. Fred and George explained that they'd be staying there, too, along with the guest judge of the day because it would make travelling that much easier. What was more, they said, even after elimination, none of the seven teams would be packed off home. Harry and Ron looked at each other awkwardly, but neither said anything and mumbled something about hoping to be competing against each other right up to the finish. Draco had no such tact and loudly proclaimed this was the twins' innovative way of rubbing salt into the losers' wounds.
"Is that true?" asked the Prophet reporter, her eyes wide.
Fred coughed and turned away, and George loudly protested it was not. They were being uncharacteristically unsubtle, which spoke volumes for their intentions.
Following the first round, unpacking was chivvied in favour of a celebratory after-party to be held in the manor. Teams mingled freely, buoyed by the shared feeling of making it through where ninety-three others hadn't. Fred and George were making private bets with Lee Jordan about when the participants would realise they were competitors and start sabotaging each other.
Harry seemed as lost and out-of-place at a party as always, looking at once for Ron and Hermione. Ginny didn't take it personally; she was no longer his girlfriend, she wasn't obliged to rescue him from social situations. She just gave his hand a friendly squeeze of support, and went to talk to Terry Boot and Angelina Johnson. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her brothers engulf Harry, and didn't regret the little feeling of relief.
She saw Malfoy and his lot standing by the buffet table. Parkinson was trying to feed sugared cherries to Zabini, while also trying to look as alluring as possible with a face like hers. Malfoy looked as if he was trapped in a very small lake, surrounded by angry Mermen, and Ginny laughed to herself all the way to the bar. The laughter died promptly when she realised that there was no Firewhisky being served, only something called honey-wine. It didn't sound very appetising, let alone capable of getting her drunk.
"Becoming a booze hound already, Weasley? Such a shame, it always gets them early."
Her grip tightened around her drink and she slowly turned to face Malfoy. "I must have divined you were coming over to talk to me," she said. "The thought of your company's enough to drive anyone to drink."
"If your hectoring doesn't make them do it first."
"Those are big words, coming from the bloke who... well, 'was partnered with Pansy Parkinson' sums it up right."
"I'll drink to that," Malfoy agreed graciously, plucking the cup out of her hands and taking a generous swallow. He made a face. "Merlin's pants, what did you do pour whiskey and sugar into this?"
Ginny eyed the drink dubiously. "It's called honey-wine. Probably something like Butterbeer."
"You mean something like mead. Ugh, it's strong." That didn't stop him from sampling it again, a little more appreciatively this time. "Potter must be terrible for you to commit to this alcoholism thing so seriously."
"You're the one who's currently drinking away his sorrows. And Harry's just fine, you prat."
"Ah, Weasley, don't make me sing that song about blackboards and pickled toads."
She didn't bother rising to the bait. "Don't make me hit you. Or bring up the things you did when you were eleven. Or shall I bring over Neville and Harry, and we can reminisce?" She'd never seen anyone change colours so fast. Malfoy didn't look as if he liked a reminder of his past. Good, she thought. First year hadn't been a breeze for her, either.
The next time she spoke to him was in the second round.
Round Two: Barbarossa
Fred and George were explaining that Barbarossa, the namesake of the second round, was a fifteenth century pirate, whose name meant "red beard." Draco saw that Pansy had tuned out. The very mention of pirates would have been a dead giveaway about the nature of the event, if only the stadium hadn't already been magically enchanted to become a sea. The kind with water and monsters. So much for no more magic.
Each team would be put on a small barge. One person would steer from the wheel, the other would use miscellaneous fishing equipment found on board to defeat a host of small Kappa. All seven teams would compete simultaneously, and the last team to finish would lose the round. Draco had seen the size of the barge; he wasn't looking forward to seeing the Kappa. ("Those are really dangerous," he heard Granger whisper loudly. "Do Fred and George know what they're doing? I mean, this is a water demon we're talking about, it says so in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It likes human blood.")
Since Cho and Padma had won the previous round, they were to receive an advantage in this one. A lot of fanfare and flourish preceded the reveal that their barge would come with a captain, Hope Greyjoy (who was also the guest judge), leaving both girls free to tackle the Kappa. Hope was the first witch to have sailed around the world in thirty days, which was the subject of her book, Keeping Up With the Krakens.
"How much do you know about a Kappa?" asked Ginny as they went aboard. The deck swayed beneath their feet in the artificially choppy waters, and her stomach did unruly somersaults. She could count on one hand the number of times she'd been on a boat before: two.
"Less than Ron," admitted Harry, stealing a glance across the 'sea' at Hermione and Ron's barge. They were too far away, but one figure was clearly visible, bossing around the other.
"Tough luck for you, then, that I'm no Hermione," said Ginny a little more snappishly than she'd intended. She'd asked Harry because out of all her friends (and ex-boyfriends), he was the one who knew best how to get along without magic. Hermione would have been an even better choice, but she'd always been Harry and Ron's friend, never Ginny's. They got along really well, but it wasn't the same. Certainly not the same as Harry and Ron, and she could tell Harry was thinking the same thing.
("Ron!" shrieked Hermione. "That's a demon, not a Hippogriff.")
"If all else fails," he said bracingly, "our strategy will be to scope out whoever looks like they're winning, and to copy whatever they're doing."
"How very Slytherin of you."
"We're not in school anymore, Weasley," hollered Parkinson, from her barge that was bobbing up and down very close to theirs. "Being 'Slytherin' doesn't mean a lot."
"Spoken like a true snake," muttered Harry under his breath, and Ginny nudged him towards the railing, stifling a laugh. "Oi, stop that. Why can't I steer? You can play demon-catcher."
"Were you counting on that many people knowing how to deal with the Kappa?" asked the Daily Prophet reporter. This time she was wearing a ridiculously heart-shaped neckline that Fred was having trouble ignoring, so George answered for him.
"There was one team with two former Ravenclaws and a winner's advantage, and another one had Hermione Granger. We were just as surprised as you by the final results."
She looked sceptical to hear it. The Game of Thrones page in the Prophet usually had one tiny paragraph-long column for unpopular opinions about the tournament. It had been suggested that the game was rigged, which accounted for so many Weasley relatives and spouses in the final seven, not to mention the Chosen One himself, and several of his friends. ("Must be our fault for being so charming and well-liked," the twins had said in response. "The whole world's our friend. And our brother. And aunt. And cousin. And second cousin four times removed. We're a big family, in case you didn't notice.")
"In retrospect," said the reporter now, "do you think it was a bad idea to have seven bloodthirsty demons loose in the water at the same time?"
"George... do you think that's why we got that strongly-worded letter from the Ministry this morning?"
Hermione, who had read every textbook from cover to cover, and had forgotten nothing knew what to do. In theory. Newt Scamander had been very clear. For one thing, the Kappa preferred ponds and rivers, and was already out of its depths in the sea. Resembling a mean-tempered monkey with a scaly exterior, it carried water in a hollow at the top of its head. If the Kappa could be made to bow, the water would spill, diminishing its strength. Not everyone was Hermione Granger, however, and the Kappa liked to drink human blood. The other competitors were buried too deep in fishing tackle and curses in the name of Merlin to lodge an official complaint.
"Hey, Chang," Pansy called out, while Draco was safely ensconced behind the wheel of their barge. "Shouldn't you know all about these?"
As Hope Greyjoy steered them closer to the Kappa, Cho's look of annoyance deepened. "I'm Anglo-Chinese, not some magical Oriental carpet." While the girls tried to figure out how to get him to bow, he looked like he was figuring out how to feast on them. "Why couldn't we be fighting dragons? I'd trade anything for a dragon."
Draco opened his mouth to let fly a dazzlingly witty pun, but a water demon was trying to scale its way up the side of the barge and Pansy gave a loud battle cry.
"Got a cucumber?" Neville was asking a slightly seasick Hannah. She looked appalled at the prospect of going below deck to forage through their supplies, but he had a queer sort of glint in his eye. The last time anyone had seen that, a snake had lost its head and Voldemort had screamed. Hannah was obviously counting on her man for an encore.
He certainly delivered on that promise. Using a potato peeler to carve his and Hannah's names onto the cucumber, he tossed the vegetable into the Kappa's open hands. "Those three are looking quite cosy on deck," remarked the Prophet reporter, and Hope Greyjoy agreed it was a win for Abbott and Longbottom.
"Good for Neville," Ron had said rather graciously, wiping sea spray off his face. Harry blinked a little blindly beside him, wiping his glasses because he hadn't been allowed to spell them dry. "He went from Hippogriffs to Kappas fast."
"Beheading a devil snake obviously did wonders for his confidence," added Harry.
"Only because he didn't have his toad with him." Malfoys weren't content to be left on the sidelines while others lapped up glory, and Draco's familiar drawl made the Prophet interviewer beam. "I guarantee it freed up his hands for a change."
It was Justin and Terry who lost the second round. Ginny was sad about them going because Terry had always been somewhat decent to her, as if to make up for his braggart friend, Michael Corner. They were able to get the Kappa to bow to them in record time, but they were both such terrible navigators that their barge had capsized first.
The competitive spirit had finally sunk its ugly claws into the residents of Castamere Hell. Justin didn't say much to anyone, and mostly kept to himself, stabbing his dinner moodily. Terry tried to be more social. Everyone told him what a shame it was because his team had made such good time on the actual task. After a point, he couldn't take the sympathy anymore, and with a strained smile excused himself from the large parlour and went up the stairs to be alone. Hermione remarked on how it would be nicer if they'd gone home, after all, and got an icy look from Hannah who tugged Justin by the arm, out of the kitchen and up a winding old staircase.
Ginny was glad that the competitors were still allowed to carry their wands here, even if the stadium had magic-detecting spells. ("Big thanks to McGonagall for that one," the twins had said in the Daily Prophet. "We're a dab hand at breaking enchantments like that, and she's had too much practice casting them.") She was sitting by the fireplace, making the embers form funny faces on the brick wall behind the fire.
"Making a mirror there, Weasley?"
"That doesn't even make any sense."
Malfoy didn't bother sitting down, leaning against the mantelpiece to grin smarmily down at her. "True, but I had to say something. Smile; your brother's watching."
She glanced reflexively over her shoulder to see that it was actually George who was squinting at them in some surprise from across the room. Ron and Hermione were nowhere to be seen (thank Merlin, but maybe not, since she could guess what they were doing.) Despite the distance, she didn't need to see George's face to know what he was thinking. She was suddenly irritated by her family's conviction that she collected boyfriends the way some people did coins minted before the Goblin Rebellion. Then Alicia popped out of a corridor and dragged George off; and Ginny shrugged and focused on Malfoy again.
"Shouldn't you be less nonchalant? I do have six older brothers, all of whom are ridiculously overprotective. So much as being seen this close to a guy—" She smiled innocently at him, perfectly aware that her height put her at eye-level with anatomy Ron pretended she was unfamiliar with, "—should instantly put you on their kill list."
Malfoy seemed disappointingly unperturbed. "Are you going to be making promises all night long, or do you plan on actually delivering on that?"
Well, then. Someone certainly seemed to be learning from his mistakes. "Speaking of your performance," she said, "you weren't as terrible as we expected today. I might have lost a few Sickles betting the wrong way."
He threw back his shoulders, instantly adopting a more swaggering posture. She could tell that he was genuinely pleased by the compliment, despite himself. "That's what happens when you make the mistake of underestimating me."
"No," she corrected sweetly, "it's what happens when I make the mistake of not accounting for Parkinson. I should have known someone who looks like a hound also has the tenacity of one."
The corner of his mouth twisted down. "I'll be sure to tell her that.
"I'm sure she'll take it as a compliment."
Even Malfoy had to nod in rueful acknowledgement of that. Ginny still didn't like Pansy Parkinson, but that hardly detracted from her strength as a competitor. While Malfoy had fumbled and tried to bluff his way with the Kappa (he'd completed the task purely by dint of his policy of 'when in doubt, bow to a vicious magical creature ten times stronger than you'), Parkinson had grappled with the wheel, grim-faced and clenched-teethed. She looked like she had no idea how to sail a boat, but was going to win or die trying.
Unfortunately, she seemed to apply that attitude to all her endeavours, sometimes with less success. Zabini looked distinctly uncomfortable, squished into one side of the love seat with Parkinson practically on top of him.
"Speaking of pansies," said Malfoy, mimicking what she'd done earlier, "did you know there's a whole flower bed of them out in the garden? Did you know there was a garden?"
Ginny, who had overheard the twins disabusing Ron of any notion of plucking the rosebushes for a present for Hermione, just nodded. Then she twigged on. She glanced pointedly out the window; through the open drapes, there was a wide, clear view of the grounds. Bushes cut in interesting shapes zig-zagged a large fountain of a harpy. The water pouring from it glistened like silver. "A moonlit walk among the flowers, Malfoy?" She turned away, casting down her gaze, and mock-coyly peeked up at him from lowered lashes. "With me?"
He snorted like a petulant dragon trying to breathe fire, and held out a hand. She clasped it without hesitation, letting him draw her up to her feet.
Round Three: Shakuni
Fred and George had a hard time explaining that the third round of the Game of Thrones tournament wasn't rigged. Even Ron, who should have been overjoyed, was wary of it. It didn't take the Prophet long to hop on to it as well.
"You said Minerva McGonagall helped you design some of the enchantments surrounding the tournament?" asked the reporter in a way that didn't sound much like a question. "Isn't it true that when Nicholas Flamel's philosopher's stone was being kept in Hogwarts, she was also responsible for its protection? As a Transfiguration teacher, didn't she create a gigantic sentient chess set, a game that Ron Weasley proceeded to win? You do see my point here, don't you...?"
Ron himself certainly did. "It's a trap, wait and see," he was quoted saying, his face ashen. Ginny, who had heard the stories about her brother's first larger-than-life wizarding chess game, imagined he was probably having flashbacks. Or nightmares. "This is going to be terrible. Are you completely mental? Why would I be confident of success? It's obviously what Fred and George want you to think."
And yet it was difficult to guess what the twins had been thinking. They explained the rules of the third round with their usual gusto. This time, the stadium had been converted into a giant board with black and white squares for the strategy event: a chess game. The six teams would play each other, three teams for black and the other three for white. There was a limit of ninety moves, just because Fred and George liked to be difficult. The losing side would be split back up into three teams, which would play each other again. The individual team with the lowest score would lose.
The teams were divided randomly. One on side there was, Alicia and Angelina, Draco and Pansy, and to their unbridled delight, Hermione and Ron. Black was Cho and Padma and Harry and Ginny, with Hannah and Neville. Since the latter had won the last round, their side would be given an extra twenty seconds to make each move. Ron didn't look like that bothered him especially, so the others on his side pretended to be equally confident. Ginny just thanked Firenze's poxy stars that Hannah and Neville hadn't ended up on the same side as her brother.
"You against Weasley," said Pansy smugly, as they ignored Granger's clarion call to huddle around Ron and discuss team tactics. "There's something so very star-crossed about that, isn't there?"
Draco knew at once that she'd seen him with Ginny Weasley in the garden, in the moonlight, under the fountain. He knew she'd imagined some elaborate reconstruction of events, all the better to mock him with. He didn't want to disabuse her of it; after all, 'sleeping with the enemy' sounded better than two people who soon ran out of things to say to each other. The infuriating thing was that he had wanted a different ending. Weasley was, well, a Weasley, but she was one of the few people around who talked to him, and not just to bark orders or tell him to pass the gravy boat. For better or for worse, Weasley was the closest thing he had to a friend in this Game of Thrones, and he really preferred not to think about how depressing that was.
"You've got cotton fluff between your ears," he told Pansy rudely, instead. "Might want to clean that out."
The smirk slipped right off her face. He marched on past, shouldering his way between Chang and Spinnet. "I'm here now, Granger," he said, interrupting any lecture she might deliver. "And we're expecting Weasley to remind us why he's our king. This is his one area of competence in this whole tournament, isn't it?"
Weasley immediately changed colours from green to red. He drew himself to his full height (which was a disappointing couple of inches over Draco) and his cornered-rabbit look of seconds ago transformed into something that would make a troll proud.
"Is that your best attempt at looking intimidating?" asked Draco politely. "I didn't know it was time for the mountain giant impersonations already."
"Mountain giants can bash your head in with one swing, Malfoy," said Johnson coldly. "Ron. You were saying?"
Bloody hell, this was like heckling the Gryffindor team's Quidditch practice all over again.
"Malfoy, you'll take the king's place."
Well, maybe he'd have to revise that sentiment. "Finally. A position actually worthy of me."
Ron bulled over him, as if he hadn't spoken. "I'll take the queen, Hermione, you and Pansy are the bishops." Weasley, thought Draco, couldn't be all that stupid if he knew the wisdom of keeping those two firmly separated. Angelina, you'll be the rook, Alicia, the knight."
Everyone, except Pansy, nodded, accepting Weasley's sudden leadership skills without so much as a blink of their eyelashes. They muttered wishes of luck amongst themselves. Granger looked whey-faced for some reason, constantly sneaking looks at Weasley.
"Malfoy. There you are. I want a word."
Draco, who had hovering in the married couple's vicinity in the hopes of overhearing something delightfully incriminating, frowned. He didn't like being treated as a straggler who didn't take his role in the team seriously. But Weasley's ears were burning red and his whole face was set in stone. Draco threw him a bone and decided not to mock him for it. He let Weasley fall in step beside him, expecting to be told what his new kingly duties entailed.
"Are you mad?" Weasley snorted, interrupting Draco's suggestions of how to cut through the other side's defences. "You stay put and let me do all the decisions, while the girls do all the defence-cutting. And well, Parkinson, too."
Draco's blood flared to hear Weasley dismiss Pansy, but the freckly git had other things on his mind. "What's with you and my sister?" he demanded without preamble. "You two've been spending an awful lot of time together."
Weasley must have been referring to the fact that his sister now lived in the same house as Draco, which meant they saw each other frequently at meals, in the parlours, in the kitchen, in the unused ball room of Castamere Hall, and in a bathrobe as the inhabitants of the house scurried around back and forth trying to find an available bathroom to shower in.
"And why shouldn't we?" he said instead, just because he wanted to see how much redder Weasley could get before he popped a vein. "I'm a man of wealth and taste, and she knows quality vintage when she sees it. That's me, by the way, in case you were in doubt."
"Fred and George are going to make your life hell, if you don't stay away from her," promised Weasley. "And then Harry and I are going to find you to dish out seconds."
"Will Granger be joining us for this feast?" Draco hadn't quite forgotten the humiliation of being punched by a thirteen-year-old girl. "Don't be jealous of the fact that women find me irresistible and I like to indulge them. Just because you got married and got shrivelled—"
"Balls. That's all I've got to say to this," said Fred with utmost certainty. George looked a shade downcast, and it seemed to be brining his brother down as well. Not even the Daily Prophet reporter's provocative knee-high leather boots could cheer him up. "There's no such thing as a winner's curse," Fred went on, because George wasn't about to chime in with a comment. It was unlikely to be because they were sitting on his left, his bad side.
"So you're saying it's just a coincidence?" asked the reporter.
"We're just saying that our little brother's bloody good at chess."
"At an event that just happens to be something he faced when he was eleven years old."
"It's been fourteen years, you can't reasonably predict he'll pull off the same thing."
"He can't even recreate the one good Quidditch move he used to have in Hogwarts," supplied George.
"You should blame Harry."
"We never thought he'd be this bad at chess."
Ginny couldn't help but agree with George when she read the interview later in the Game of Thrones page of the newspaper. The black side had suffered greatly from the fact none of them were good players, and Ron was trouncing them with each tactical defeat and strategic victory. It had been mortifying when a giant black pawn had revealed it knew how to talk, by complaining about one of Harry's decisions that lost them a rook. Hannah had quickly taken over the reins after that, but Ron had wiped the board clean with them.
"He was just that much better," admitted Neville, smiling a little ruefully at the Prophet reporter. "It was inevitable, really. The real question was who was going to lose at the end of it all. Yeah, it was a bit funny. Well, not ha-ha you're-a-real-laugh, not right away, but a couple of weeks from now, when it's not so fresh? You have to admit it was hilarious to see us on the board. I'd do it all over again, if I could, sure. Just... as an audience, this time. At least for the chess round."
When the deep-sounding gong had resounded through the stadium, signalling the fall of the king, Neville had been stunned. Blank-faced and unable to comprehend it, he had simply stood dumbly for what felt like several dark summer-less years for everyone watching. And then Hermione had run across the grounds and thrown her arms around him in a tight embrace, and all feeling drained from his face as the implication finally sunk in.
"Don't listen to him," Hannah had said, affectionately shoving Neville out of the way. "He just wants to look good in front of all the people reading about him. We definitely considered going home, back to Hogwarts for him, to my flat above my pub for me. Well, for us, actually..." (Neville looked around, startled, but a big grin slowly dawned over him.) "But he wants to stay in Castamere Hall. Support his friends, and all that."
"I changed my mind," he said very quickly. "Especially if there's room for, er, two in the Leaky Cauldron."
Round Four: Makera Assada
It didn't take long for dark mutterings to begin when the horses were led out for the farrier challenge. The audience in the benches ringing the stadium collectively sucked in a sharp breath. "Where are the ponies?" demanded one clear, piping voice, before it was promptly shushed. Many must have shared that child's confusion, but soon cottoned on from the reaction of the rest.
Alicia Spinnet involuntarily took a step back, looking the wrong way, and bumped into Angelina, who steadied her. Cho seemed close to tears, and Ginny took no pleasure in noting that even Malfoy was visibly afraid. He was staring straight at the nearest one, and it was watching him right back.
"There's no need to be afraid of them," called out Rolf Scamander, touching one leathery, skeletal flank of the Thestral. He was leading it to the middle of the stadium, trailed by four others. Rolf was the acting guest judge for the fourth round, on behalf of his father who was on a jungle safari somewhere in the south of America, looking for Clabberts in their natural habitat. Any goodwill he had earned with Ginny for bringing Luna along with him, died (grisly pun not intended) when it was revealed that that the farrier event wouldn't be about shoeing horses, but these horses. From the green colour on Ron's face, she could tell he felt the exact same way. Next to him, Hermione was struggling to contain her revulsion when Rolf pulled out a raw slab of meat to throw to the five evidently hungry Thestrals, probably on loan on Hogwarts. Given how they were the rarest of all the winged horse breeds, it was the only place they could have come from. Ginny surmised it was only love for Hagrid that kept Hermione from openly denouncing his beloved pets.
"Are you all right?" she asked Harry, who was the only calm one there. Pansy Parkinson was on the other end of the spectrum, having shrilly demanded of Fred and George a cancellation of the event in the name of bad taste.
"They won't hurt you," Rolf had tried to tell her. "They're very docile. Look, they'll even eat out of your hand." Instead of giving her a sugar cube or carrot to offer the Thestral, he gave her the sack of meat, and Pansy looked like she might slap him.
"Not really," Harry told Ginny, not taking his eyes off Rolf and the Thestrals. This might have been because Padma Patil was tugging Cho forward to get closer to them. "Never shoed a horse before. Do you think I should have paid more attention in Care of Magical Creatures?"
"Don't worry," she assured him. Cho and Padma looked equally terrified as if they were approaching an Acromantula, but Ginny had to give them silent points for wanting to win that badly. "Not even Hermione knows anything about the subject. I doubt she could even get the textbook open, after the first ten times it must have tried to take her fingers off."
It was announced that the Thestrals were there to stay. Rolf recommended striking up a good dynamic with them because they'd be crucial to winning the next rounds.
"That's it?" called out Malfoy loudly. He was the one who was keeping the safest distance from the animals, Pansy clinging to him like a limpet. "The only thing to do is to stick a shoe these things? Where's the challenge in that?"
Fred and George heard him from the commentator's box, and Ginny could only imagine the looks on their faces. It was Rolf who hastened to answer. The event really was as simple as the matter of fitting four horseshoes to a Thestral's hooves. The first team to complete the task would win. The suspicion was written clearly on everyone's faces, which was a better way of uniting all ten competitors than the fact that they could see Thestrals at all.
(Rolf also explained that being a farrier wasn't easy; it involved knowing how to smith and how to take care of the animals. Hermione looked like she was going to launch the tournament's equivalent of SPEW on the spot. Thankfully, Rolf was accompanied by four of Britain's best farriers, one for each team to make sure the Thestrals would come out of it all right. The Prophet reporter even told Fred and George, "That's rather nice of you." They simply shrugged, rather than make a wisecrack; it was as if they meant, "It was the least we could do.")
Then, Rolf walked over to an empty part of the stadium, bending low before he whisked off a tarpaulin with a Disillusionment Charm cast over it. Under it, was a staggeringly high pile of horseshoes of different sizes and metals. It looked like a small mountain.
Draco glanced at Pansy, seeing his own oh bollocks expression mirrored on her face. Now, he was starting to get an inkling of why Scamander had been so airily cheerful when explaining the rules. The bastard. His outrage only increased to hear that Granger and Weasley, as the winners of the previous round, would be given a five minute head start before the rest.
"This is ridiculous," Pansy muttered to him, as a firecracker (probably the handiwork of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes) went off in the sky to signal the start of the event. Granger and Weasley shot off like a bullet, reaching the pile of horseshoes. She didn't break her stride for a second, picking up a handful of the metal things, while he stood around and simply gaped like an oaf.
"How are we supposed to find a shoe?" he bleated, and Draco almost felt sorry for him.
"I don't know, Ron," snapped Granger, tossing some back into the pile. "But I'm a girl, so I'm sure I'll figure it out, won't I?"
The true reason why Fred and George had laughed when Draco had been unimpressed by the simplicity of the challenge, was driven home when Granger and Weasley ran towards their Thestral, armed with horseshoes. Their assigned farrier's face betrayed no emotion, but he took an infinitesimally small protective step towards the beast. When Weasley tried to lift the Thestral's leg to shoe it, it seemed as if he'd have better luck trying to tickle the sole of a giant's foot.
Draco came to regret snickering at Weasley soon enough. Neither he nor Pansy had ridden a day in their lives. Horses were an affliction of rich Muggles; they were witch and wizard, damn it. Draco had tried to ride a Krup like a horse once when he was little, because his mother that exasperatedly told him centaurs were too big and too full of their own importance for that. His complete inability to get a hoof off the ground (Pansy looked ready to chuck horseshoes at him) was still not the worst thing to happen in the stadium: Angelina and Alicia's Thestral took flight, with the former still on its back.
(Alicia snatched up the sack of meat from Scamander, hurling a hank into the sky. Pansy's derisive comment died on her lips when Angelina caught the disgusting thing mid-air and used it to tempt her mount back down on the ground. The stadium burst into applause all around them. Effing Quidditch show-offs.)
"You were saying..." The Daily Prophet reporter radiated smugness from every pore. It clashed unattractively with the wonderfully seductive perfume she happened to be wearing. "Something about there not being a winner's curse..."
"Coincidence," said Fred, waving it off. He sounded much more cheerful at the prospect of having some of the charges of nepotism and favouritism being disproved. "You may have heard of it."
"It's like a little a magic lining up of disparate events," added George helpfully.
"We wish we could have a winner's curse."
"Makes things more interesting. You win—"
"And you die. Tricky conundrum, that one."
"But if you want to get all philosophical on us, we can do that too."
"Something about how this game isn't big enough for more than one Weasley."
Briefly describe what you'd like to receive in your fic: Draco and Ginny are in a competitive reality series (like DWTS, The Amazing Race, etc) they can be partners or both in it to win
The tone/mood of the fic: cute, witty
An element/line of dialogue/object you would specifically like in your fic: one of them has a catchphrase the other hates
Preferred rating of the fic you want: anything
More canon, or more AU? AU
Deal Breakers (anything you don't want?): no character bashing
Are you willing to receive art instead of a fic? no