Title: The Unlikely Incident of a Selkie on a Coffeeboat in Wintertime
Pairing(s): Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy, assisted by Astoria Greengrass
Summary: When a dire sitch disrupts Mr Draco Malfoy's business, Mr Harry Potter's intervention is imminent. Luckily, the genius of Miss Astoria Greengrass ensures a happy ending.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): references to P.G. Wodehouse
Epilogue compliant? EWE
Word Count: ~3700
Author's Notes: Dear cindala, various elements of your prompts came together like a jigsaw puzzle for this. I hope you enjoy this story. Many thanks to my beloved & brilliant beta B.
The Unlikely Incident of a Selkie on a Coffeeboat in Wintertime
Dashed if I know how it happened, but the morning I jogged down to our office from the North Berwick Floo Station with soot staining my skirt in a most unfortunate manner, Draco was already perched on top of his mahogany desk and inhaling a large mug of hot chocolate.
At first glance, I had had the idea that the world had ended. Hardly anything in the course of our previous acquaintance had suggested that Draco might have a predisposition for early mornings or making his own drinks, unless one counted particularly long nights that trickled into the hours of dawn and splashing a bit of Old Ogden's into a tumbler someone had already put in front of him.
Mind, I love Draco dearly – he remained most kind and amiable when my darling sister Daphne broke off their engagement to elope with Blaise Zabini, and even went so far as to offer me a job when I decided that a young lady of my talents and accomplishments should not languish without employment. Of course, he profited greatly from my presence, for between the two of us, I was the one with an O in Muggle Studies and a superior knowledge of Coffeeboats and other wizarding entertainment traditions from the Roaring Twenties. Still, he was under no obligation to be nice to me or to Daphne. And yet he even helped to organise their anniversary party on Fidra. All in all, Draco is a perfectly fine fellow, but that still doesn't make me blind to the fact that his usual modus operandi is idleness and occasional periods of creative obsession.
Was that an impostor in our lovely office?
Sure, he was currently savouring hot chocolate with whipped cream, but he might have been a ghoul out for my blood next... Never mind that the aforementioned whipped cream had caught on his nose and was lending him a generally non-threatening air.
But no! Leaning against the doorframe and clutching my beaded purse to my chest, I proceeded to observe my boss carefully. It was the same slouch, the same slightly receding hairline, the same carelessness of dress that could be expected of a person heartily supporting house elf emancipation and pointedly avoiding the fashion advice of their mother and all other connections of good taste.
Most importantly, it was the same pinched expression, halfway between curbed enthusiasm and weary wistfulness, that spread across his face as he stared out of the window at the Bay that convinced me that the person currently inflicting the morning WWN broadcast of vampire boogie hits of all time on my delicate ears was indeed none other than Draco Malfoy, Esq., proprietor and director of Fidra Boat Rides, and also my something-something twice removed.
Satisfied that I would not have to wield the deadly power of my purse to shatter any skulls at this ungodly hour, I slipped inside the office and sat at my own desk, fully prepared to offer a suitable cordial 'Good morning' and wondering whether it would be proper to enquire about the origins of Draco's newfound eccentricity, when I was once again struck dumb by the absence of the usual pile of letters, telegrams, and other dastardly paperwork that habitually littered my desk in the morning. Gaping like a fish, I turned to Draco only to notice that the correspondence had already migrated to his desk, neatly sorted, and, judging by the size of the folder stacks, some of the issues had already been handled.
As it turned out, this unprecedented display of efficiency and autonomy was a grim portent of things to come.
The morning was frightfully busy, with numerous arrangements with caterers, clients, and sub-contractors to be made. All of this fussiness demanded that I use the Muggle telephone and the Muggle computer on my desk, and Draco kept casting wary glances on both devices as they rang, buzzed, and flickered. I'd say that several years in the business had tempered his technophobia considerably, although Pansy had once let it slip that Draco was simply practicing the mind-healing visualisation technique: imagining little Pixies inside the Muggle gadgets and pretending they were functioning on magic. Well, whatever got us through the day.
Then around noon, when Draco was sprawled in his chair with his jacket off, loudly contemplating the relative merits of muffins, panini, and kebab, which was his usual subtle way of hinting that lunchtime was imminent but he had no idea where or how to get it, the phone rang.
I feel bound to point out that even the very ring had been a tinny, morbid sound, filling both of us with dread.
It was as if the Phone Pixie was announcing our doom.
I grabbed the phone even as the binder with quarterly receipts slipped from Draco's fingers with a dull thud.
'Fidra Boat Rides, Astoria Greengrass speaking,' I said into the receiver.
It was Captain Quick, the mighty dashing Squib captain of our proudest boat, Narcissa. (The other one was a smallish thing and not nearly as nice.) As he rattled off the news in his usual business-like manner, my head whipped around to look outside the window. Before I was able to speak or indeed to squeal anything, Draco had followed my gaze and was out of his chair, grasping the windowsill to peer through the thin fog to where Narcissa stood. Judging by the greenish hue of Draco's pallor, the damage that Captain Quick spoke of was obvious.
Ending the call, I allowed myself the pleasure of gently hitting the desk with my perfectly coiffed head – but only once – before I spelled the kettle to make tea and rummaged in my desk for the secret stash of shortbread.
Hardly if ever were Earl Grey and cookies more called for than at this moment, as my dearest employer slid down to the floor in profound dismay, having glimpsed the wreck left of our best boat after an angry Selkie bride decided to flip the groom off and jump ship.
Harry Potter was a fine specimen of insurance investigator, possessing an open face, broad shoulders, black hair, and an air of general dreaminess that undoubtedly tempted people into babbling about his green eyes and otherwise making fools out of themselves. Needless to say, the presence of such a person is not unwelcome in any company; moreover, Potter's frank and earnest manner was quite refreshing.
Of course, he was yet to prove his usefulness as an insurance investigator, for the moment he stepped into our cosy little office, he proceeded to do little else than to stare at Draco with an expression of constipated bewilderment. I admit I was rather disenchanted, for Potter's glamorously heroic past and current professional reputation had led me to believe that he was an astute fellow. And yet the capacity for thought, speech, and civil conversation he had displayed downstairs as I greeted him and escorted him to our office on the second floor seemed to have deserted him completely the moment he laid eyes on Draco.
Naturally, Draco, being an oblivious melancholic, failed to take note of this curious detail as he crossed the tiny expanse of our Persian rug to greet Potter and, after a somewhat clumsy handshake, stood in morose silence, swaying on the balls of his feet in his best imitation of a haunted ship, or whatever Draco thought he was doing.
I myself have grown rather used to it, but, judging by Potter's jittery discomfort, it was a pretty good imitation. When no more words were forthcoming, Potter turned to me with an expression that brought confused Pygmy Puffs to mind. Taking over seemed charitable, and I swept in with my usual elegance and skill.
'Mr Potter, sir,' I began in a tone I considered professional and agreeable, and which Daphne insisted that reminded her of our Nanny Winifred. 'Thank you kindly for visiting us on such a short notice. We are much disturbed by this unpleasant incident, but we hope that, with your assistance, we will have the means to have it promptly forgotten. If you would kindly consent to inspect Narcissa after a spot of tea?'
Why, Potter seemed relieved to be reminded of the nature of his business here. 'Yes. Yes, of course, Miss Greengrass.'
Draco nodded and shuffled back to his desk, muttering something like 'very well' with all the cheeriness of a Flobberworm. Given the occasion, I found it understandable, and yet I could not resent, at least a little, Draco's failure to engage in social pleasantries with a man who not only was capable of giving us back our Galleons, but also was perfectly suitable dalliance material, if you take my meaning. I was running out of cousins to set up as his dates, and Draco himself would not exert even the smallest effort to trade his absence of decent companionship for something more satisfying.
'Do take a seat, Mr Potter,' I said, steering him with my free hand and Levitating the tea tray with the other.
'Do you have any idea how this happened?' Potter asked, gradually returning to brisk professionalism after whatever trip down memory lane his higher brain functions had taken upon seeing Draco.
Draco wrung his hands and glanced skyward – or rather, ceilingward – with a look of abject misery. He then frowned, no doubt noticing the yellowish stain spreading across the white, and returned his gaze to Potter, who was just sitting down gingerly in the visitor's chair.
I paraphrased Draco's histrionics by saying, 'I cannot even hazard a conjecture, Mr Potter.'
Potter accepted the teacup and turned to Draco again. 'Would you say the boat is valuable?' he asked, prompting Draco to bury his face in his hands and mumble something that might have been 'of course it is', 'it's my whole life, you bloody git', and 'my precious'.
I Levitated the sugar bowl. 'Extremely. Bespoke magic. Exclusive renovations. Ranking number seven on the Witch Weekly Admirable Wedding Venues List last year.' Potter was taking a sip, thus preventing me from determining whether he was suitably impressed. 'It is Mr Malfoy's personal project.'
Something akin to a sniffle could be heard from Draco's general direction. Potter, bless him, was staring at the shortbreads and studiously ignoring him.
'I see,' Potter said, though his gaze was blank and he could obviously see nothing but the remains of my shortbread stash. I reckoned he referred to some weird investigator logic that was currently spelling things out for him. 'And does this kind of thing happen often?'
I walked up to Draco to give him the kind of back-smacking that is supposed to end coughing fits; it took a while, with Draco wildly gesturing at me to continue. 'Minor accidents. The best man slipped on pomegranate hors d'oeuvre this spring and sprained an ankle. That sort of thing. And in August, a couple of Slovenian tourists accidentally detuned the Muggle-repelling charm, but Narcissa is visually Muggle-proof anyway. We even give open tours during the season. So, regular trifles, no serious damage.' It then occurred to me that Draco's gestures might have actually meant stop pounding my back, and so I stopped helping, leaving him to his wheezes and Potter's compassionate glances.
'Potter,' Draco croaked. He was looking slightly manic and dishevelled, and it was a look Draco had been known to wear extremely well. 'Potter, this is a horrible tragedy and I need this to be over, do you understand?'
Personally, I thought that this was a far cry from a reasonable, understandable statement one should have made when claiming the insurance Galleons they were entitled to. However, Potter turned out to be well-versed in Draco's penchant for melodrama and obsession. He took it all in stride and nodded, his handsome features settling in a mask of manly determination.
'Sure, Malfoy. I'll get the boat examined straight away, and once everything is cleared up – if everything is cleared up, the Goblins will pay the sums stated in your contract for these things.'
Judging by Draco's glare, he had things to say about the if. I could applaud his restraint when he didn't voice them, instead taking his still-steaming teacup and quietly swearing to keep such dangerous things as brides from his lovely, lovely boats.
The afternoon was getting increasingly bleak and crispy when Captain Quick amiably took us to where Narcissa was resting upon the waves. The lifeboat seemed to have caused Potter mild seasickness. Or perhaps his moue of vague distaste was due to Captain Quick's off-key singing about sturgeon and mermaids, which was, admittedly, one of the Captain's less charming idiosyncrasies: I maintain that unless one has a pleasant tenor such as Draco's, one should refrain from indulging in vocal exercises. In this case, I was willing to concede a point in Potter's favour for musical taste. Draco, however, was still less than charitably inclined and kept looking at him askance, like Potter could not be trusted.
Once on board, Potter proceeded to cast general diagnostic spells on the boat. I could see Draco suppressing a shiver: obviously, he wanted to do just that, to examine and inspect his precious Narcissa with due diligence and attempt to fix and straighten every nook and cranny with his own wand. Seeing as he could not magically tamper with the boat until the insurance company saw fit to determine that the accident was worthy of reimbursement, all Draco could do was pace the deck, bundled in his winter coat.
'Right. A bit fishy, I say.'
Potter's statement caused Draco to startle and turn to face him, cutting a dramatic figure against the mangled railing and scattered bits of mangled wood.
'What is it? What's happened?'
I have to say that so far, Draco had behaved with admirable composure in this sharp crisis. No hexes, no jinxes, no screaming, no weeping, none of the uproar one would expect from a person whose means of sustaining one's livelihood was gravely damaged by a dramatic case of bridal fever. Those would have been his usual responses to a sitch like this, and I chalked up the relative stoicism to Potter's reassuring presence. The man did appear confident and reliable. Everything about Potter's person – from the set of his shoulders to his deft wand movements – spelled everything will be fine in big flashing neon letters. It immediately occurred to me that Draco could have done with more such people in his life. I could not do everything, after all.
But still, knowing Draco, I could see that he was a good deal stirred up. To a stranger it might have seemed that he was only moderately moping about his carefully renovated jewel of fashionable wizarding recreation. To me, he was a ticking Muggle bomb.
And indeed, with Potter's green eyes taking a distinctly sceptical glint as he spelled a glowing analytical chart to hover in the air, Draco began radiating alarm and discontent like a particularly hazardous magical fire.
'There's an awful lot of magical residue on the boat, Malfoy. Note the hubs of activity here, here, and here,' Potter said, poking the air with his wand. 'Quite a few custom-made enchantments, applied regularly. Everyday charms twice the intensity of the normal level.'
'It's a magic boat, Potter. We give rides to wizards. And, as you may have noticed during your diagnostic, it is partly powered by magic.' Of course there's high magical residue, you blighter went unsaid, but it was heavily implied.
Potter's eyes smouldered behind his spectacles.
'As you may know, Malfoy – and you most likely know, Charms have always been your strong suit, after all – careful systematic application of a particular set of charms, however innocent, in a certain pattern can cause grievous magical harm.'
A compliment and an insult, all in one breath! It was one odd moment, I dare say. I figured Potter's dating habits were even worse than Draco's, for even a novice in these matters would have known that accusing someone of nefarious intent was no way to endear oneself to them. And I knew, of course, that Potter trying to get a rise out of Draco was a kind of flirtation, albeit a foolish and inexpert one.
Draco, however, had no way to arrive to the same conclusion, for he hadn't observed Potter's careful attention to the shape of Draco's rear when we had been getting on board. As for the other subtle body language clues, Draco was usually oblivious to them like a baby Mooncalf. So it came as no surprise to me that, in response to Potter's rude insinuation, Draco quacked and gargled like a new-born dragon before resorting to invective. It shall not be repeated here, but the message Draco desired to convey was roughly this:
'How dare you suggest I may have all but destroyed my own beloved boat, the light of my eyes, this feat of wizarding carpentry, machinery, engineering, etc., when I have spent years making sure it was perfect and safe?'
Potter, apparently being a contrary creature with a promising masochistic streak, seemed delighted by Draco's exuberant reaction. Only slightly more civilly, he pointed out potentially dangerous overlapping of multiple incantations in the coffeebar (recreated verbatim from the 1924 Magical Coffeeboat of Fifi St George, by-the-by) and several other coincidences that might have magically enhanced the damage sustained by Narcissa.
The two of them circled the wrecked deck like overexcited roosters. And then Potter delivered the killing blow, so to speak:
'Really, I'm not even sure that one Selkie could have thrashed the boat so thoroughly.'
With this, Draco's composure was understandably shot to pieces. It was one thing to accuse Draco of carelessness with his magic or of intentionally making the mess bigger than it really was to get more insurance money. Dismissing the Selkie incident as a feeble fancy was a Hippogriff of another colour.
A heated exchange transpired, during which Draco assured Potter in no uncertain terms that the bride had been very real, thank you very much, and if Potter wished to verify the power of her tail and flippers, he was welcome to take a dip in the bay and go ask her for a repeat performance. Potter responded in kind; between one shout and the next, he conceded the possibility of one very frustrated Selkie severely damaging the boat, and proceeded to argue the level of damage actually covered by insurance versus other mishaps that were apparently none of his concern. All of this was done in an extremely rambunctious manner.
While they were thus engaged, I brightened considerably. Draco rarely displayed as much vivacity as when he was bickering with Potter. Clearly, spending more time with him was going to benefit Draco's health. I knew Draco enough to gather that he would not be entirely disinterested in exploring further possibilities; of Potter's thinly veiled attraction I had no doubt.
However, a difficulty presented itself. The juvenile sublimation they were currently engaged in, snarling and yelling while puffing their chests and showing off their posture, was unlikely to lead to a satisfactory resolution any time soon.
Here is where I have to admit that I do not list patience among my virtues.
With the way things were, any romantic possibilities were precipitating towards gloom and doom. Even if Potter were to gather his wits and express his budding (or perhaps rekindled) appreciation of Draco's looks and magical skills in a more constructive manner, right then, Draco would have expressed as much enthusiasm for, say, the prospect of coffee with Potter as he usually granted to oatmeal porridge.
Therefore, this nuisance had to cease the very instant.
I had a faint hope that, should the opportunity for arguing be removed, Potter and Draco would express a different attitude towards each other. And so I checked whether Captain Quick was safe in the lifeboat (he was, bless him, and smoking a pipe), took a few prudent steps closer to the railing, and caused a suitably dramatic explosion with a swish and flick of my wand.
Needless to say, my timing was excellent, and the results supremely satisfactory.
Although there was a great deal of noise and rubble, Narcissa did not suffer any structural damage. But the flare and glare had served their purpose: the attention of Potter and Draco was redirected, their mood shifted, and their actions spoke louder than words.
Potter immediately proceeded to steer Draco clear from danger by casting Shielding Charms and wrapping him in a firm embrace. (He extended the courtesy of a Shielding Charm to my humble person, too. Of course, Potter had no means of knowing it was unnecessary, for I had taken my own precautions, but the gesture definitely appealed to Draco.)
Afterwards, Potter and Draco proceeded to explore and examine the damage, working with such amity and rapport as if their teaming up to resolve minor magical mysteries were an everyday occurrence. I know I will never have the heart to disappoint them and divulge that they arrived to a wrong conclusion that day, declaring that the cause of the explosion was an accidental overlay of previously cast charms in the dancing room and in the coffeebar.
(The real reason was, of course, my strategically applied combination of Engorgio and Reducto halfway between the coffeebar and the dancing room.
(I am, after all, rather good with magic.)
Anyway, I am pleased to note that Draco has been coming increasingly late in the mornings, and, at the same time, has been looking increasingly content. Griphook & Co has fully paid for Narcissa's repairs, to which Draco has been applying himself very diligently.
He appears to have found an inspiration.
From what I have seen of Potter's character so far, he is an insufferable, self-righteous, dedicated, warm-hearted bloke – in other words, the most perfect match to Draco's tastes and inclinations.
And they're bound to live pleasantly ever after, or my name isn't Astoria Greengrass.