Celestial Navigation by phlox
Beta Readers: First, Dayang Lucilla, who months ago pulled the crumpled-up pages out of the trash and smoothed them lovingly, and Lorcalon, who stepped in at the eleventh hour to give support and guidance on a tight deadline. I am sincerely indebted to them both!
Draco was making excellent time.
Okay, turn right at Beedle Street. Take to the right side. Quickly past the apothecary; Scamander is on his way out of there, and you don't want to get caught talking to him about the risk of Kneazle Fever during flu season. You'll want to cross the street here – they haven't picked up the trash yet at the Menagerie – and then it's clear sailing ahead getting to the Leaky. Oh look, here's Fortescue's coming up on the right... just F.Y.I., but they do have those ginger-spiced muffins that you're so fond of in for the holidays. You're actually ahead of schedule, mate, so you've got time to stop-in for coffee. In fact, you should really consider getting caffeine in you before this appointment – the woman can really drag on and on... Oi! Malfoy! Do you really want to start a business relationship by being early to your first meeting?
Draco stopped in his tracks. He wasn't particularly looking forward to meeting this woman, although he was anxious to get things moving. But in his haste, he was running shamefully early, and his father would probably break out of Azkaban just to rap his knuckles soundly if he heard of it. (But then, Lucius was late to every visitors' day and had kept the Wizengamot waiting at his trial; few were as dedicated to appearances as he.)
There in the middle of Diagon Alley with the wind whipping his hair and the Christmas shopping traffic buzzing about him, he came to a decision: there really was no rush. It was a chilly day, and he did indeed need some hot coffee to get through that meeting with the estate agent. Doubling-back, he took a small device out of his ear and pocketed it as he entered the cafe.
In Fortescue's, a familiar figure was standing patiently in the queue, second from the front. Now, to say that Draco stopped short upon seeing her would imply that his reaction was one of surprise. As it was, he neither startled nor broke stride; he was growing rather used to the sudden appearance of Hermione Granger in the middle of his day. Unbuttoning his overcoat and pulling off his gloves, he wove through the other patrons to sidle up next to her in the queue (because he wasn't above cutting when it suited him).
"I would say 'fancy meeting you here,' but I believe I used that on the second and fifth occasions."
"Second and fourth," corrected Granger, her concentration on the pastry case unwavering as she stared down a particularly intriguing pumpkin scone. "Your more recent jibe that 'we must stop meeting like this' was refreshing on the fifth but tired by the sixth." She turned to him, one eyebrow delicately arched. "However, I must say that your spirited, 'Hermione Granger, fancy that!' on our last encounter has been my favorite of your greetings."
Draco felt sure he was being mocked. Narrowing his eyes, he detected a slight smirk on her face as he turned away to the pastry case, deciding that the muffins which had enticed him here looked rather fetching and were far more deserving of his attention.
These chance meetings had started a couple of months before when he'd seen Granger quite out of the blue one morning at the Leaky Cauldron. They had begun by taking swipes at each other, just like old times. Actually, Draco had started in on her hair and style of dress, but she'd refused to bite until he'd ramped it up and aimed his barbs at house-elves and half-giants. However invigorating though the fight had been, it was inexplicably hollow. An hour later, they'd found themselves talking over fish and chips about new regulations passed by the Wizengamot and had parted with an awkward truce.
A few weeks following, he'd been minding his own business and heading toward a flat for lease in Hogsmeade when she'd nearly knocked him over barreling out of Gladrags in a huff. From there it had become slowly but surely natural to encounter each other in the course of their day; they'd get in a few digs at each other before inevitably settling in for tea or a meal and spirited conversation. In the absence of any other comparable stimulation, Draco rather treasured these experiences.
Granger made it to the counter, placed her order, received tea and one of the aforementioned scones, and turned to say, "I just finished that book on Acromantulas you recommended."
Draco's head whipped toward her, eyes wide. "You finished it? We were just talking about it two days ago."
"Yes, well..." She smiled, looking pleased and a little smug to have her freakishly voracious reading habits recognized.
Draco hadn't exactly meant it as a compliment, as it wouldn't do for her to think that he just handed those kinds of things out that easily (and besides, it was freakish).
"It was fascinating," she continued. "They're such horribly misunderstood beasts."
"Misunderstood?" His eyebrows shot heavenward and he forgot entirely about coffee and sweets as he followed her to a table in the back corner. "Granger, I think the wizarding world as a whole correctly understands them to be murderous monsters."
She gasped dramatically, putting her mug and plate down on the table and her bum down on her seat all with far more force than usual. Draco smirked down at his chair as he pulled it out and sat easily; Granger could go from zero to puffed-up-and-indignant in less than sixty seconds. It was like the world's most amusing game of Exploding Snap, and she was just picking up steam.
"Would you consider it murder if someone came into your home and threatened your family? Defending yourself would be completely justified! It's the same thing with the Acromantulas in the Forbidden Forest. If people would just stay out of their territory—"
"Their territory?" He reached over and nicked a piece of her scone, wielding it to make his point. "You're talking about dozens of kilometers, filled to the brim with thousands of brothers and sisters and nieces and second-cousins and grand-nephews, of varying sizes, out looking for a feast—"
"You're exaggerating. Again." She tossed her hair, the way she did when winding up to give a lecture. "We're talking about when someone comes upon a nest—"
"No, we're talking about what you call 'poaching' and the rest of the world calls—"
"It's not! This is why I should have taken the job at Reg and Control. I have to deal with this attitude from just about everyone in MLE, and it's pervasive in the wizarding world. It's getting to the point where... "
And so it went, on and on, and into the late afternoon. Like the seven times previous, Draco became so engrossed in the amusement he had entitled (as he liked to title things he didn't want to otherwise examine), 'Wrangling With Granger,' that he lost track of time. He didn't realize until Granger herself took her leave that he'd been there for two hours, had missed the appointment he'd made with the estate agent, and still hadn't had any coffee.
"Bugger!" His exclamation brought delighted giggles from a nearby group of boys and sharp looks from their mothers. Ignoring them all, he dug the device back out of his pocket and stuffed it in his ear as he pushed out the door. "Mayday, mayday, mayday! I've missed another appointment. Get me to Beamish's office directly and maybe I can fix this."
The device came to life with a yawn and the voice began in his ear.
If you insist on wanting to see that estate agent, I'm going to again warn you that there's something definitely weird with that woman's hair and the unnatural way it resists movement. Don't you growl at me, mate, I just call 'em as I see 'em. But, if you're sure that she's the one to help you... you're going to have to go back to the Leaky, since you'll have to take the Floo into Hogsmeade and try and catch her at Madame Puddifoot's. Yeah, I don't like it any more than you do, man. Right. Cross the street, then take to the left here, because there's some major shopping traffic in front of Blotts, since that poof Vanderwall's new book is out just in time for Christmas, and the ladies are out in droves. Watch it – I think the one on the left there is that bird you picked up last month at the pub, so I'd avoid eye-contact if you shagged her and 'forgot' to call— Ahhh, a right cad, you are, Malfoy. Okay, if you cross here, you'll be clear to the Leaky...
It had all begun with a very basic misunderstanding of Muggle technology.
Well, to be more precise, it had begun with the soul-crushing experience of having his wand stripped from his person and being flung out of the wizarding world for a full two years; punishment for his part in the death of Dumbledore (tried as a minor) and his actions under the control of the Dark Lord as an unwilling Death Eater (acquitted on all felony counts). The creative minds of the Wizengamot had decided two years getting to know Muggles and their world – all while without the benefit of magic for a truly authentic experience – would be brilliant sensitivity training.
"What an exciting adventure for you!" his mother had said. "You can be anything you want. You can go anywhere you choose."
Draco had resisted telling her that what he already was was a wizard, and where he had already chosen to be was his home in the wizarding world. He refrained, because he had been sincerely worried about the woman; she had been in complete earnest.
"You'll find yourself, Draco dearest." She'd squeezed his hand and looked at him with an intent expression he'd never before seen anywhere near her patrician features. "You can decide just who you want to be, who you are beyond your name."
At that, he had wondered exactly who she was and what she'd done with Narcissa Malfoy, proud pure-blood matriarch and derider of all things Muggle.
Now, Draco had known his mother had suffered from great worry through the two years of terror that had been the Dark Lord's hold on her son. He'd known also that she'd gone to great lengths to ensure his safety during that time and in the Battle of Hogwarts. He'd been well aware that she was overwhelmed with relief at the bloody miracle that had him avoiding Azkaban, unlike his father. And he'd suspected that the time she seemed to be spending with her no-longer-long-lost sister, Andromeda, had probably been doing a bit of a number on her old beliefs and general world-view.
But that had been a bit much.
At his incredulous sneer, she'd gotten serious. "Draco, listen to me. Wouldn't you like to put the past two years behind you?" At his sullen shrug, she'd continued, "The Malfoy family has always been powerful because they have excelled at sensing which way the wind was blowing. Whether we like it or not, that will be toward the half-bloods and the Muggle-borns from now on. You'll have to change, Draco. In going to live with Muggles, you'll learn how to survive in this new world. You're the future of this family. This will give you a chance to build that future on something other than the mistakes of your forebears."
Draco had been able to see her point, albeit reluctantly. He'd had no desire to apologize for the rest of his life, and couldn't bear to live in shame, hiding himself from the very world the Malfoys had ruled for so long.
Still, he'd thought it must be quite easy for her, the lone Malfoy in possession of her freedom and her magic, to wax on and on about adventures and choices and all that rot. In his resentment, of course, he'd pointedly ignored the part involving that bit about saving Potter's life in the final battle that kept his mother sitting pretty (his conscience had found it was best to stay silent when Draco was annoyed).
In the end, he'd swallowed his bitterness and had gone stoically out to meet his fate in the Muggle world, hoping against hope to make it through with at least some of his dignity intact.
In truth, it hadn't been all that bad. The Auror assigned to his case had been a boring but pleasant man named Stevens who hadn't seemed at all interested in rubbing Draco's nose in his mistakes. He'd got Draco set up in a flat, tutored him quickly about the currency and the basics of electrical appliances, given him a map of Muggle London, and suggested he look for a job as a bicycle courier. After a few shell-shocked days of sitting staring at the walls of his puny but clean flat, that suggestion had been taken and accomplished easily enough.
It was the actual being a courier that had been the challenging part. Learning to ride the bicycle hadn't been too bad; he'd perfected his balance on a broom almost before he could walk. But that map of London had made Draco's eyes cross. It wasn't just the urban sprawl, or the duplicate street names, or the confusion between the 'City of' London versus 'Greater' London that had been the problem.
It was the massive hunks of metal that zipped at high speeds around and about and toward him and the traffic they arranged themselves into, like some precisely choreographed ballet. It was also the street closures that had got to him, and the film crews that blocked off big chunks of Central London with no thought to the impact on the rest of the populace. Even worse was the construction that had seemed to be everywhere, changing the look of the streets, the skyline, and important landmarks nearly daily.
Draco had not been able to get the hang of it. His every delivery had been fraught with misadventures, making fodder for his co-workers' amusement. Had he needed to survive on his earnings alone and hadn't blessedly had that small allowance from his trust fund, his stomach would have eaten itself as a result of the lost income.
It just so happens that business people get skittish when packages are days late. That skittishness turns to stinginess when it comes to tipping the courier.
It was after the ninth suggestion that Draco should get himself something called a 'G-P-S' that he'd gone to find out what it was all about. He'd figured it was (like everything that preoccupied Muggles) some kind of electronic device, so off he went to a shop called 'Curry's.' Thank Merlin he had gone alone. It was thus fortunate it was to a single salesperson only that he'd showed his ignorance of Muggle innovation.
Upon hearing the most basic explanation of it, Draco had assumed that a GPS not only gave directions, but got one around the aforementioned traffic, disturbances, and annoyances in the process. He'd thought it gave something akin to advice. Having lived his life with magic, it had seemed a reasonable possibility; having lived for months with Muggles, it had struck him as the kind of thing they would have created to get them more easily through life.
Because, as Draco had found out, Muggles weren't so useless after all.
They were quite inventive and could be accepting of outsiders. They were creative, and their artistry could evoke tears and make the heart soar. They had alcohol more varied and more potent than the wizarding world; they zipped around in public transport that was quite a kick to ride; and they made quite simply the most delicious little yellow tube cakes with cream filling, called 'Twinkies,' of all things. (Once he'd found them quite by accident one day at Sainsbury's, Twinkies became Draco's breakfast of choice whenever he could get his hands on them.)
And, speaking confidentially, Muggle birds were almost embarrassingly easy to chat up, especially when they'd gotten a look at him in his biking shorts.
But standing around staring at a big map of London had been attracting pickpockets. So he'd pretended he was joking to the salesman at Curry's and bought the GPS. Having half of what he wanted from it was better than nothing, after all. His tips improved marginally thereafter, which had been good enough for him. Armed thus, Draco had soldiered on with his little cakes and the company of the occasional brunette, and he'd had some high times here and there before the two years were through.
He'd never forgotten about his original concept though, and when he'd returned to the wizarding world he'd thought long and hard about how it could be accomplished. More to the point, he'd pondered who exactly could be the one to do it.
After weeks of deliberation had brought him again and again to the same name, Draco had finally had to admit that there wasn't anyone else who matched the skill and innovation required for the job. He'd always kind of admired the prat and his identical wanker at school, anyway. In truth, he'd often been amused by their antics and their obvious genius at invention (quietly amused, and if anyone had ever questioned him about it he would have derided the very notion).
He'd known that one of the twins had died in The Battle of Hogwarts, but he couldn't recall which; it was not as though he'd known either of them personally. All he could hope for was that the one who had beaten the stuffing out of him and broken his nose after that Quidditch game fifth year hadn't been the one who'd lived.
As (Draco's) luck had it, he was.
Their acrimonious first greeting at the shop in Diagon Alley had involved a few well-placed hexes from the red-headed bugger and far more flattery and groveling than Draco had planned. But before long, he'd found himself frustrated and desperate for Weasley to listen to him.
He'd yelled, "You give new meaning to 'in one ear and out the other!' you great pillock! Is all this just rattling about in that skull of yours with nowhere to exit?"
Surprisingly, George Weasley had an extraordinary sense of humor about his war injury (and a startlingly high-pitched laugh), so it had been precisely the thing to say to get him to lay down his arms. Beyond that, his business acumen had allowed him to let bygones be bygones and accept Draco's challenge and partnership. Of course, the large investment by Malfoy Enterprises in Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes didn't hurt.
Draco's dream was that their creation would be ready and on the shelves by that year's Christmas season, but it turned out that these things took time to perfect. So it had happened that a year and a half, one holiday season, one broken nose (Draco's, again), and three prototypes later found them testing merely the latest version of the device. They both had high hopes for it to be the final version, and the testing was getting rigorous, but another shopping season was destined to pass without it on the shelves.
"I give you the 'Wizarding Directive System,'" Weasley had said, when he'd presented the first prototype with a flourish. "'WDS' for short."
Draco had scrunched his nose in distaste. "'WDS?' You couldn't think of anything more... snappy? What about—"
"We're not putting the word 'Malfoy' anywhere near this thing."
He'd affected his best affronted look. "I wasn't going to say anything about that. I was thinking along the lines of ha—"
"There will be no references to the Wimbourne Wasps."
"...Well, then we could try—"
"No runic associations. People find them elitist."
Draco had gaped at him. Weasley had just smiled and pulled from his ear the gadget that would quite clearly be supporting their grandchildren's great-grandchildren into dotage.
It was that good.
Draco had whistled lowly and taken the device gently from Weasley's hand. Marveling at it, he'd held it up to the light. "Brilliant. But seriously, about the name. What I really want to evoke is some—"
So, that's how the Wizarding Directive System had gotten its name. And that about summed up Draco's working relationship with George Weasley.
To work the WDS, one needed only make a request, such as 'get me to the church on time,' or the like. The device would then, by hook or by crook, do precisely that. Draco had been absolutely inseparable from it, and its power only increased as its accuracy sharpened. It had performed well on its first outing; he'd used it to retrieve a family heirloom that had been purloined by the Ministry and had become absolutely convinced of its infallibility.
In the aftermath of the final battle, Malfoy Manor had been overrun with all sorts of Ministry officials from Aurors to Unspeakables who came to confiscate any Dark artifacts left about the place. Some were souvenirs of the Dark Lord's stay, and Draco and Narcissa had been more than happy to see them go. Most of it however, had been in the family for generations, and the experience of outsiders riffling through it all as though it were rubbish had been humiliating for him and devastating for his mother.
The Ministry idiots, in tromping through their home, mistakenly scooped up amongst the cursed and the heavily warded a music box which had been handed down from one Malfoy bride to the next for three hundred years. It was enchanted to play the tune most dear to each wife in possession of it, and Narcissa had a habit of sitting with it in the front parlor a few times a week, a peaceful smile on her face as it played.
One look at his mother's face when she'd discovered it missing and Draco's quest to reclaim the heirloom from the Ministry had been imperative. He'd explained the situation to Weasley, who had given him detailed instructions on how to use the device for his purposes.
Once he'd given it his directive, the WDS had advised him on the perfect time of day to make his visit to the Ministry; directed him to Alastor Gumboil, the person most able to help him recover it; and had fed him the lines to properly flatter and cajole the man by discussing Gumboil's hobby of cultivating The Abyssinian Shrivelfig before subtly changing the conversation to the granting of favors. By the time he'd left, the man was obsequiously proclaiming that he owed one to Draco.
Draco had admittedly found himself at that point debating the pros and cons of using the WDS for world domination. He was only human after all, and a Malfoy to boot. One could only imagine what his father (or his father's father, or his father's father's father before that, the sick bastard) could have wrought in the wizarding world with such a nefarious tool. His mind did fairly reel at the prospect.
But then Draco had remembered that he'd stopped wanting to emulate Lucius Malfoy (or his father before him) right around the time he'd seen the man groveling on his knees before the Dark Lord. And that after years of promising Draco that to wear the Mark was to stand at his right hand? Delusional sod, that Lucius.
Involving himself in Ministry politics and bureaucracy would be essential, but power-mongering was not for Draco. He'd decided instead that the money he'd make selling the WDS would be sufficient, and in the meantime, he could utilize its powers beautifully in his search for a flat in London.
A result of his time in exile had been his realization that living on his own (read: without his mother) was far more comfortable, and he'd since been champing at the bit to move out. Unfortunately, he'd found that finding a flat in London was about as easy as finding one's way around London and had been looking for months by the time this latest model of the WDS had been ready to give some help.
But now, something was definitely wrong with the thing. Draco had been late for a few appointments here and there before, and that was nothing serious. Missing one entirely, however (by a few hours, and without being able to talk his way back into the woman's good graces, not even by flattery of her unnervingly imperturbable hairdo), seemed a direct malfunction and definitely cause for concern. His enjoyment of spending time with Granger notwithstanding, he needed his own flat. So he went back to the source.
"It's not working," Draco said with a huff.
The shop in Diagon Alley was positively bursting with the frenzy of holiday shoppers, so Weasley barely spared him a glance before continuing with a customer. A full ten minutes went by before he would deign to give Draco his attention, and he had the nerve to seem put out by it.
"What is it you're trying to do with it, exactly?"
"I'm giving it instructions and it's steering me wrong," Draco said tightly.
"I mean exactly," Weasley said with a sigh. "Tell me the exact phrase or phrases you're using when things don't work out."
Draco's brow furrowed. "It seems to stop working specifically when I'm looking for a flat that's been advertised to let, or on the way to an appointment with an estate agent or landlord. I've been using the 'affirmative speech' you suggested, saying things like: 'help me find my home,' or 'take me to where I will feel at home.'"
Weasley's interest was apparently piqued by that, as he took out a well-worn flip pad and was transcribing every word. "And what's happening, exactly? Where is the WDS taking you? Is it giving you faulty directions?"
"No, no. It takes me in the right direction, but then..." Draco shifted uncomfortably, suddenly feeling as though there could be a way of looking at this that would put him at fault. He admitted, "It sometimes distracts me."
"Distracts you?" Weasley stopped writing and leveled a shrewd look at Draco. "Does it change your mind about where you want to go, or does it just delay your getting there?"
"Change my mind?" Draco said, alarmed. "It couldn't actually mess with my mind that way, could it?" He was not reassured by Weasley's careless shrug, as though that wasn't a disturbing notion. "Well, I guess it just delays it. It makes me think— It will point out something else that I end up wanting instead."
"Like what?" Weasley prompted, gesturing impatiently. "Where does it take you?"
"To eat, or to get coffee or a paper or... something. Some kind of little errand."
"Yes, but where does it take you?" he said, agitated. "If you're using the same question or something similar each time, there should be something consistent that connects where you end up. Is there something in common with each occasion?"
"I guess you could say that I—" Draco cleared his throat, his cheeks inexplicably heating. "When this has happened, I've run into Granger."
Something nearly imperceptible flickered in Weasley's eyes. He took a deep breath, looked down at his notes and then calmly up at Draco. "Hermione?"
Getting such a serious reaction from Weasley set him decidedly on edge. He had a feeling he was missing a vital part of this conversation, though that was nothing new with this bloke.
Draco forced a shrug and kept his tone nonchalant. "Yeah, I just keep seeing her around. She's just always where I end up, and then I get... sidetracked." He watched as the git scribbled furiously on his pad, almost certain he wasn't going to like where this was headed.
Weasley pulled his stool up to the counter and sat, pen and paper at the ready. "Okay. Tell me again exactly what you say to it. Exactly."