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31 May 2008 @ 10:03 pm
HP fic: Quantum Leap (5/6)  


part iv

Draco disappeared downstairs as soon as they got home. Cherub, silent as the grave though he was, proved an effective buffer zone between Harry and Draco. Draco hadn’t said a word to Harry since waking up – or, to put it another way, since Harry had got drunk and molested him.

And although that was a correct way of putting it, it didn’t sound like the truth to Harry. But how could he show the difference so that it mattered? The best thing to do was to ignore Draco, which had been his preferred option all along. It was only Draco who had interfered with that plan. Now that Draco was avoiding him in turn, life should be easy.

“Ground control to Major Tom,” said Cherub.

“Huh?”

“You were miles away,” explained Cherub. “I didn’t know you lived with Dudley.”

“I’m his cousin,” said Harry. He realised that Cherub’s placidity had translated into him being taken for granted; Harry assumed Cherub knew far more about his situation than he did.

“Right.” But that was the good thing about Cherub. Nothing seemed to faze him, because he didn’t really care. “Petunia always keeps cakes in the breadbox, shall we have some?”

Harry, who hadn’t known this, agreed with alacrity.

Dudley and Piers came home a little later. They were so delighted to see Cherub that Harry wondered why he hadn’t been invited over before. Harry thought it might have something to do with the way they let Cherub take all the initiative: from getting more cakes to guiding the conversation. Given Cherub’s lassitude this was like hiring a dead fish to conduct an orchestra, but Harry was not such an expert on human relationships that he felt like advising them.

After a while Harry excused himself to see if Snape was around. He’d made his promise to Cherub in the heat of the moment, but he wasn’t planning on breaking it just because Snape was a miserable git who’d made Harry’s school life hell for five years. If that fact slowed his steps, however, no Hogwarts student in the world would blame him.

He got a surprise to see Dumbledore sitting in a conjured armchair in the basement. No, he corrected himself: it was reasonable for Dumbledore to check up on the house. It was outrageous, not surprising, that he hadn’t been notified.

“Ah, Harry,” said Dumbledore warmly. “I’m glad you could join us. Mr Malfoy informed me that you were entertaining guests.”

Draco glowered at Harry in a way that suggested his real explanation had been rather more colourful.

“I was,” said Harry. “Is Snape around?”

“Professor Snape,” Dumbledore corrected him for the seventy-ninth time, “is away on business. Did you require him urgently?”

“I was hoping he’d have some Murtlap essence,” said Harry. “It’s for my friend – he’s got some bad cuts on his hands.”

“I’m sure Professor Snape will be happy to oblige you when he returns,” said Dumbledore. Harry stared. The idea of Snape being happy, about anything, was blasphemous; and Harry wouldn’t like to be within a twenty-mile radius if it ever did happen.

A sudden stinging pain on the back of his neck distracted Harry. He clapped a hand to it, expecting to come up with a squashed insect for his troubles. There was nothing, however; and a few seconds later his cheek was stung.

“What the –” Harry spun around on the spot, bypassing Draco’s vindictive expression out of sheer mortification. But the fact that Draco had a bagful of pistachios didn’t escape his attention; nor did what he was doing, when a third shell thwacked Harry right in the nose.

Dumbledore hadn’t noticed the goings-on behind his back. He was busy returning a thought to the Pensieve. Harry’s heart sank at the thought of exactly what memory Dumbledore had been mentally examining. No wonder Draco was in such a foul mood – fouler than usual, Harry amended, then worried that he actually knew Draco’s gradations of emotion.

Dumbledore flicked his wand. Harry felt a rush of magic glitter against his skin. He assumed it was the wards going up.

“I’m now certain that Lord Voldemort has made Horcruxes,” said Dumbledore. Harry couldn’t help glancing at Draco, but he didn’t betray so much as a flicker at the name; he was hardening to it. “From my other intelligence I gather he’s made seven in total. Here, sit down in comfort. Harry, will your friends miss you for a few moments?”

“Who’d miss him?” said Draco in an undertone.

“No, they’ll be fine,” said Harry. His fingernails dug into his palms as he fought not to rise to the barb – which, for Draco, was an exceptionally dull one.

Dumbledore conjured two more armchairs on either side of his own. Glaring daggers at each other, the two boys sat. Dumbledore smiled congenially – for all the world as if he were at a tea party – and whipped up a Wedgwood teapot and three cups out of thin air. Draco kept his bag of nuts on his lap. Harry couldn’t see how he’d manage to aim past Dumbledore, but if he knew the Slytherin at all, Draco would find a way.

“My first piece of information may come as news to both of you.” Dumbledore poured the tea. “Milk and sugar? No? You both like your tea black and bitter? How singular. Anyway – Draco, in your second year Harry vanquished an evil diary belonging to Lord Voldemort by driving a basilisk tooth through it. The reason you may not know about this is that we hushed it up. There was no need to incite panic when the beast was dead, slain by Harry here. In fact, Harry, you accomplished more that night than even I knew. The diary was itself a Horcrux, given its properties; and basilisk venom is one of the few ways to destroy Horcruxes. The others include Fiendfyre, or deep remorse on the part of the creator – a remorse so great that it often proves fatal.”

“That’s good,” said Harry.

“Yes, except for the bit where you killed the only living basilisk in Britain,” said Draco. “That leaves us with even fewer options than before, with five more Horcruxes to destroy – to say nothing of the Dark Lord himself.”

“What’s it to you, anyway? You’re practically a Death Eater.” Harry turned on Dumbledore. “Who’s to say Malfoy isn’t a spy? He could carry all this information back to Voldemort in a heartbeat.”

“Actually, he couldn’t,” said Dumbledore. “It was a clause in the bargain he struck – with me, personally, in case you have any doubts. He and Mrs Malfoy both submitted to undergo a Tongueless Jinx. Anything they say to us, or a member of the Order of the Phoenix, they cannot repeat to anyone else – even under pain of torture or death.”

“So I’d make a pretty useless spy,” drawled Draco, “unless you think I have hidden talents in mime.”

“I wouldn’t put anything past you,” muttered Harry.

“Even a career in mime? How cruelly you judge me.” Draco flicked another pistachio shell at Harry, clipping him on the ear. Dumbledore apparently did not notice it whizzing past his nose.

“So, do you have any idea where any of the other Horcruxes are, or what they are?” asked Harry. “It seems like a needle in a haystack situation. I mean, what if his other Horcruxes are a pair of old boots and a set of robes? How would we even know?”

“Only you, Potter, would think of putting your soul in a pair of old boots.”

“Mr Malfoy has hit the nail on the head,” said Dumbledore. “Lord Voldemort had more pride than most, as I think you know. His quest to kill you by his own hand alone is proof of that. He would want only the most exalted, the most distinguished receptacles for his Horcruxes. His old diary, humble as it may seem, was a tool for carnage. If we assume that he did not intend the same purpose for the rest, it appears likely that the Horcruxes are sealed in heirlooms of one sort or another. During the course of my research this summer, I came across one likely object: the Cup of Hufflepuff. It was stolen from the house of Hepzibah Smith, whose memories reveal that she received a visit from Tom Riddle just before it was reported missing. She also died in suspicious circumstances, and her house elf was charged with her murder.”

“But you told me before – house elves can’t cause mortal harm to humans,” said Harry.

“Which is exactly why it’s suspicious,” said Draco. Another nutshell nipped Harry’s nose.

Dumbledore sighed. “Unfortunately, in cases like these, the finger of accusation falls easily upon those unable to defend themselves. The house elf underwent trial in a kangaroo court and was sentenced to death when found guilty.”

“If he used the Cup of Hufflepuff, he probably wanted the other great symbols too: the Diadem of Ravenclaw, the Sword of Gryffindor, the Locket of Slytherin,” said Draco. “He’d hardly run after Hufflepuff’s treasures and leave the rest.”

“How do you know about these things?” demanded Harry.

“How do you not know about these things?” countered Draco.

“As I have had guardianship of the Sword of Gryffindor since before Tom Riddle was born,” said Dumbledore, “I think we can safely rule that one out. I drew the same conclusion as you, Mr Malfoy. The others are unaccounted for. The Diadem of Ravenclaw was lost sometime in the mid-fourteenth century, during the witch-burnings. The Locket of Slytherin was a pureblood heirloom, but the records do not show what family passed it on after the Shakespeares died out.”

“Look, what the hell’s a diadem?” said Harry.

“A sort of – crown thing.” Draco sketched a picture in the air with his hands. “Smaller than a tiara. Rowena Ravenclaw apparently wore it when she was alive. The sapphire’s supposed to be enchanted to bestow wisdom on the wearer. It’s the sort of nonsense Ravenclaws believe.”

“Yeah, ‘cause a locket’s so deeply unfroofy.”

“That locket turned aside the Sword of Gryffindor when he tried to stab Salazar Slytherin in the heart,” said Draco. “It bestows invulnerability in battle, although any Slytherin would know to wear full body armour as well.”

“Obviously a sword’s a sword,” said Harry. “What’s the Cup about?”

“Oh ... it’s like a horn of plenty,” said Draco, sounding vague. “I was never very interested in it – who would be, in something a Hufflepuff made? Whoever holds it can make any kind of food and drink come out of it. That’s why most Hufflepuffs are fat. Helga’s idea of a legacy to her descendants was an endless buffet.”

“That’s still only five,” said Harry.

“Use your other hand, you’ll be able to count higher,” Draco advised.

“Lord Voldemort began making the Horcruxes a few years before you were both born,” interposed Dumbledore. “He became more reckless in the early months of 1980. Professor Snape was present when he killed Caradoc Dearborn to make his snake companion into a Horcrux in June of that year. It seems unwise, perhaps, to store your soul inside a living creature that will eventually die. But, as I said, he was reckless, and perhaps desperate.”

“What about the last one? Any leads on that?” asked Draco.

Dumbledore hesitated. “It is hard to say what might have become the seventh Horcrux. You see, he was going to use a certain death to create it: yours, Harry.”

“But I’m still alive,” said Harry dumbly.

“In body, if not in mind,” quipped Draco.

“The spell was obviously incomplete,” said Dumbledore. “However, I think what little magic went into it resides in you ... in your scar.”

Harry’s hand went to his scar. The scar that sent him nightmares and throbbed fit to burst whenever Voldemort was near; oh, that made sense. That made too much sense.

“So to destroy it, we’d have to – cut off my head, or something.”

“No time like the present.”

Harry reached the frayed end of his rope. “Shut up, Malfoy! Jeez, you’d think everything that happened at Slughorn’s was my idea.”

“Wait, wait. You’re trying to pin you licking my neck – on me?”

“You said act touchy-feely!”

“You chewed my ear!” roared Draco. “That isn’t touchy-feely, that’s cannibalism!”

“Boys! Harry, Draco!”

Harry subsided, muttering.

“It is time to put this useless, energy-consuming feud behind you. Put out your hands.”

Shrugging, Harry obeyed. Dumbledore took his wrist, in a grip firm and cold, and circled Draco’s wrist with the other. Dumbledore exerted almost no strength to haul two seventy-kilo boys out of their chairs to face each other. He clasped their hands together and let go.

“Now,” said Dumbledore, “shake.”

Harry and Draco shook, scowling like bulldogs at each other’s feet.

“This is over, do you understand?” said Dumbledore. “You may not like each other – you may not be able to stand each other – but it is no longer important. You will put this behind you and act like rational human beings, at least where the Order is concerned.”

They both mumbled something that, in the right light, could have passed for agreement. Dumbledore sighed and poured more tea.

When Harry got his hand back, it was covered in crushed pistachio shells.

+++

Draco pawed through Snape’s stores left-handed. His right he’d stuck in his pocket, to guard from further harm or Potter mauling.

He felt a fizz as Dumbledore took the wards down, heard a faint ‘Goodbye, Draco’ before the old man Apparated away. It was only the creak of Harry’s foot on the stairs that roused him to speak.

“Hang on a sec,” he mumbled, half-hoping Harry wouldn’t hear. The stairs creaked again, then Harry’s flip-flops scuffed the concrete floor.

“What?” Harry’s voice wasn’t as strident as usual.

“I have –” Draco dragged out the linen-wrapped package. “You’ll need to dissolve it in warm water for three minutes before applying.”

“This is the Murtlap essence?”

“No, it’s fairy spit,” snapped Draco. “Of course, Murtlap essence.” His fingers dug into the package before he turned and thrust it at Harry. “Sorry.”

“Don’t –” Harry’s brow creased. “Don’t apologise. It sounds weird.”

Draco prissed up his mouth, battling his natural impulse to tear Harry’s statement apart. “Fine. I apologise for apologising; it won’t happen again.”

Harry just gave a half-nod, which he turned into an ear-scratch. “Thanks,” he said.

Draco went and sat on his bed, the lines of his back clearly saying dismissed. Harry stood still for a few more seconds, tugging at his ear, before the stairs creaked again and with finality.

As soon as he was sure Harry was gone, Draco flopped backwards. His eyes were stinging. He wasn’t sure if it were the after-effects of having Harry’s tongue on his face or the farce of a truce Dumbledore had forced him into that did it. In any case, he was not going to cry over the stupid Gryffindors, or because he missed his mother and his friends. Or at all.

After a few moments, he rolled over and hugged his pillow. It might have got a little damp when he crushed his face into it, but that was why Drying Charms had been invented.

“Kreacher,” he called. A pop, and the elf was crouched beside Draco’s cot. “Could you make me some lemon tea? My throat is sore.”

“Of course, delightful master,” said Kreacher. “Is there anything else sir might desire?”

“No, that’s all.” Draco stretched out a hand and patted Kreacher’s knobbly head. Kreacher smiled up at him: a terrifying expression, but Draco was becoming accustomed to it. He doubted Kreacher had ever had much previous occasion to practice.

Draco curled up and waited for Kreacher to return. He’d always liked house-elves. His father held them in the deepest contempt, and his mother displayed barely-veiled distaste whenever she had to deal with one directly, but Draco’s nursemaid had been an elf called Twinky.

Draco had Twinky wrapped around his little finger. She could always be coerced into turning on the night-light after his father turned it off, saying that Draco was old enough to sleep in the dark. She brought him late-night snacks and books when his mother sent him to bed early. Even after she was nominally removed from his service and sent back to the kitchens, Draco saw more of her than he did his parents. She made sure his bedroom was just how he liked it when he came home for holidays, during which times she spoiled him rotten.

Draco had been truly grieved at her death. He’d put a marker up over her grave, which was beside the kitchen garden where Malfoy elves had been buried for generations, and often snuck down there to leave flowers and tell her his news. Twinky always liked hearing about Hogwarts, where her sister worked. She listened with flattering interest to everything he had to say. His father just wanted to discuss his marks; and his mother, the pureblood girls he was expected to escort to society events in the summers. Even if Twinky was in some elfish heaven, he thought she might still be interested in his feud with Potter, Blaise’s jokes and Theodore’s experiments, Draco’s futile attempts to tutor Gregory, Vince’s not-so-secret pressed flower collection.

Twinky had once cried and ignored Draco for a week when he kicked Dobby. It was through her that he’d learned how much could be achieved through politeness. Unfortunately, he could never get it to work on Harry. Try as he might – make all the good, sensible intentions he would about ignoring Harry – he could never apply it. To see Harry was to needle him. It only irritated Draco more that Harry could ignore Draco very well; it was clear that if Draco didn’t attack first, Harry would never attack at all. It was most unnerving to have a bête noir whose only action was defensive.

Kreacher returned with a teapot, cup and saucer, and a plate of scalloped biscuits on a tray. There was even a tiny vase with a plastic flower in it – all the real ones having long since withered in the heat.

“This looks very nice,” said Draco.

“The amiable master is very kind to say such things to old Kreacher!” said Kreacher ecstatically.

Draco sat cross-legged on the bed and poured out the tea. The hot liquid was soothing against his throat. He didn’t think he was ill. If that were the case, he’d have summoned Snape at once. But it was nice to have some company. Harry and Dumbledore didn’t count. Draco smiled at Kreacher and didn’t dismiss him.

“Would you like some tea?” he asked.

Kreacher gasped. “Never has Kreacher been asked to partake of a master’s meal! Kreacher would not dream of it.”

“If you’re sure,” said Draco. “I won’t finish the whole pot. Don’t throw it away if you want some afterwards.”

“Thank you, master,” said Kreacher. “Kreacher knows the master does not like it here. Kreacher likes to be of service.”

“It’s not that bad,” said Draco, “living here. Of course, I have to deal with Potter’s constant stupidity, which gives me a headache. He’s just so ... loud, and angry, and, and it’s like he doesn’t notice one thing going on around him. He’s dense. I can’t believe he’s Dumbledore’s golden boy. He probably wants them to hunt Horcruxes together. It’ll be like following a blind man through a crocodile park. Potter has the planning skills of a dead ape. He wouldn’t know where to begin.” Draco’s brain caught up with his mouth. “Not that I would, either,” he added. “But it’s typical of Gryffindors. Bloody typical. Rushing in where angels would fear to tread.”

Kreacher’s little body stiffened. “Would the precious master like a Horcrux?”

Draco raised his eyebrows. “Not for myself. But it would be terribly satisfying to find one and present it to Dumbledore in front of Potter. It’d be one in the eye for both of them.”

“And this would make the master happy?”

Draco thought about it. What would make him happy? For life to be as it was before, when his main problem was trying to beat Harry at Quidditch. He’d never defined happiness until it disappeared from his life.

There were one or two other, separate things that would make him happy. He was a little confused as to what form they took, but they had to do with ... heavy moans, touch and tongues, strong hands parting his thighs ... Draco didn’t like to think much about them. They were as frightening as they were pleasurable.

It would be gratifying to find a Horcrux before Harry. Harry couldn’t fail to pay attention to that.

“It would,” said Draco. “Pity that it’s about as likely as Potter getting down on one knee and proposing.”

“Maybe more likely than that,” said Kreacher.

+++

Cherub was rightly impressed with the Murtlap essence. “It tickles,” he said, as he dabbed it on to his cuts with a sponge. By the time it was all gone, the colour of the injuries had faded from raw-meat red to dusky pink.

“I’ll get you some more tomorrow,” said Harry.

They were all seated around the kitchen table, eating scones with cream and healthy appetites. Stonewall’s buildings weren’t killingly stuffy and they were situated on a hill, where they caught some breezes, but it was still hot enough there to make everyone lethargic about eating. The magically cooled environment of the Dursley homestead was far more conducive to the activity.

Harry’s mind kept drifting to Draco. It was odd. He could suppress most of his bad memories. The deaths of Sirius and Cedric, the constant throb of loss from his parents’ murders, even the lambasting from the press in the last year: all these were nightmare-fodder, little more. But the scenes from the Pensieve kept repeating in his mind, until he convinced himself he could actually remember touching and caressing Draco like they were ... lovers, or something. Despite the artificial coolness of the kitchen, he felt hot and flushed.

“Do you fancy it?” asked Dudley.

“What?”

“Tilda invited us to a party tonight,” said Cherub. “Her house, nine onwards.”

“I’m in,” said Harry. Parties meant girls. Girls were normal. He preferred thinking about girls to thinking about Draco, even if his mind wasn’t currently cooperating.

“I’ll go ask Draco.” Dudley lumbered out of the kitchen.

“Does he live here too?” asked Cherub. “It’s a regular orgy round here.”

“Cherub!” said Piers, sounding amused. Harry felt his heart throb, sending blood rushing south.

Dudley returned with Draco in tow. Although Draco was pale, there was a feverish air to his movements. He kept biting his lips like he wanted to say something but couldn’t, and Harry kept ... looking.

Harry balled his hands together and shoved them in his lap, hoping they’d do the job of a Roebuck.

“I guess I’ll go home and change,” said Piers. “Will we meet back here? Considering Cherub is the only one with the directions...”

“Sounds good,” said Dudley. “I’d better let Mum know we’re going, too.”

Draco slid into a chair, all gangly limbs and too-bright eyes. Cherub calmly buttered another scone and passed it to him.

“Thanks,” said Draco. He added jam and cream. His first bite smeared his mouth with cream, which he licked away like a cat.

Harry’s hands started flexing instead of clenching. He snatched them out of his lap and dragged his chair closer to the table.

“So, are you hoping to score with Tilda tonight?” Draco asked Cherub.

“Dunno.” Cherub ran a hand over his half-healed cuts. “See if she’s interested, first.”

“Oh, she’s interested, believe me,” said Draco. “Even if she didn’t talk about you non-stop and all but detail her plans of seduction, the way she looks at you would be enough.”

“Cool,” said Cherub. His lips twitched. “I’m off to paint my toenails and curl my hair. See you lot later.”

“Bye,” said Draco, holding a hand up for Cherub to high-five. Harry wondered where he’d learned that.

And then there were two. Draco finished his scone and dipped his little finger into the bowl of cream, stretching out his tongue to catch the drips before licking the liquid off his skin. He did it absently, his eyes faraway. Harry resigned himself to sitting very still on his chair until Draco saw fit to leave. Harry was in no condition to walk. And if Draco didn’t stop his little performance soon, Harry was afraid he’d be more permanently crippled.

“Are you going to this party?” asked Draco.

“Yes,” Harry ground out. Hopefully Draco would tire of mocking Harry more quickly if he got no response, and go away.

“You should wear your red t-shirt,” said Draco.

“Uh,” said Harry, “okay.” He’d have agreed if Draco had suggested he went naked wearing a paper crown, if it got Draco to leave.

He wished he hadn’t thought about being naked and Draco at the same time.

“And this.” Draco dangled a gold chain from his fingers. “I think it’d go so well with your eyes.” He was smirking.

“What is that?”

Draco stood up and went round behind Harry’s chair. Harry tensed even further. He felt Draco’s cool fingertips on the back of his neck, as Draco dropped the chain around his neck.

“Have a look,” said Draco. He picked up the locket hanging on the chain and held it in front of Harry’s face. The snakes seemed to come alive. “Horcruxes: the last word in style.”

“Slytherin’s locket!” Harry reached out, his predicament momentarily forgotten.

“Ah-ah!” admonished Draco. He whipped the locket away again. “This is my victory, and I don’t do sharing.” He tucked the Horcrux into his shorts’ pocket.

Harry resolutely kept his eyes away. Draco’s shorts were a danger to his sanity, the way they clung and made Harry wonder if Draco went commando and not looking, dammit.

“Snape’s back,” said Draco. “Dumbledore’s on his way. He’ll probably disinherit you in favour of me when he gets this.”

“Where?” managed Harry.

“It’s the damndest thing.” Draco put his lips close to Harry’s ear. Harry bit his tongue, tasting copper. “Kreacher picked it out of the rubbish. It belonged to his last master, Regulus Black. He’s been keeping it as a memento ever since – in the cupboard under the stairs.”

“That’s ... great,” said Harry. His knuckles were white; every word was an effort.

Draco clapped him on the shoulder. Harry choked back a cry. “You’re so magnanimous in defeat, Potter.”

“Are you giving it to Dumbledore? Now?”

“Yes,” said Draco. He sauntered to the door and looked over his shoulder. “Are you coming?”

“Not yet,” managed Harry. His eyes followed Draco out of the room.

It was a pathetically short five seconds until he could breathe again.

+++

Harry walked down Privet Drive in the hazy dusk, trailing Cherub and Draco, Piers and Dudley, who were in pairs. Harry half-wanted to catch them up, walk on Cherub’s other side, but he didn’t think it wise to stray too close to Draco.

Besides, Harry had the strange feeling he was being watched. The street was quiet, all the law-abiding citizens of the Drive tucked up in bed, or at least within their four walls. There wasn’t so much as a pet animal roaming, yet Harry kept feeling prickles run down his spine. More than once he’d turned suddenly, expecting a shadowy figure to dart behind a hedge or streetlight. But there was never anyone there. Harry kept his hand on his wand and tried not to get too jumpy.

Tilda’s house was three streets away from Privet Drive, in Bloomfield Avenue. A loud brass beat identified the location of the party. In Privet Drive, complaints were made to the Neighbourhood Association if someone had their TV on too loud. Bloomfield’s inhabitants were clearly more laid-back. Or deaf, Harry thought, as Cherub’s knock was drowned out by the raucous noise from inside.

After a minute Cherub abandoned Plan A and pushed at the door. It swung open easily, letting a waft of fumes and smoke out into the night air. Cherub beamed. “Just in time,” he said.

Harry’s group fanned out as soon as they crossed the threshold. Piers spotted the drinks table, Dudley a bowl of crisps, and they hared off in the direction of these delights. Cherub’s mission was somewhat less clear-cut. He scanned the crowds of people and, coming up with zero Tildas, wandered off in search of her.

Harry looked sideways at Draco, who was looking sideways at him. They both switched their gazes and coughed. Harry had an insane urge to laugh, but it was buried under a rising tide of trepidation.

“I’m going this way.” Harry pointed to the left side of the staircase. “Don’t follow me.” His promise to Dumbledore made him add, “Please.”

“Since you commanded so nicely,” said Draco. He took a step to the right. “Oh, hey, Karen!”

One of Tilda’s blonder compatriots broke away from the herd and took possession of Draco’s arm. The girl was clearly under the influence. No one would stroke Draco’s arm that way unless they’d had too much to drink.

Harry should know.

Aware that he didn’t need to be watching them, despite the knot in his stomach telling him otherwise, Harry turned smartly on his heel. The direction he’d chosen led him into a kitchen area. He caught sight of a stove between the legs of a couple making out on top of it. The heat, which was fierce in the overcrowded house, didn’t seem to deter them at all.

Harry spotted another bowl of crisps. He appropriated a handful, deciding it was a good sign, and was just about to start eating when someone knocked against his hand. He dropped the crisps on the floor, where they were promptly crushed to death under the feet of a conga-line.

“Aw, damn,” said Harry.

“You weren’t going to eat those, were you?” demanded a shocked voice. Harry turned and saw Tilda’s breasts, spilling over the top of her inadequate shirt like rising dough. He quickly switched his gaze to her face.

“No,” said Harry. “It’s gone past five seconds. Still, there’s more in the bowl – you want some?”

“Harry,” said Tilda, “these are salt and vinegar crisps.”

“Oh. I suppose there must be cheese and onion around somewhere –”

“Are you stupid?” howled Tilda. Her pupils were dilated and her mascara smeared, so Harry could forgive the yelling; but her tone sounded too much like Draco’s for comfort. She’d clearly been coming under the sway of his dastardly influence.

“No,” Harry remembered to say.

“Your breath will stink,” said Tilda. “No crisps for you. What you need is gum. Or a breath mint.”

Realisation dawned. “But I’m not going to – I mean, there’s no one here I would –”

“You’re blushing,” said Tilda. “All down your neck, too. Did Cherub come with you?”

“Yeah, but I think he’s gone looking for you.” Harry tried to tug the collar of his t-shirt up to his ears. It meant exposing his stomach for the all the world to see, but Harry seriously doubted he was blushing on his stomach.

“Sweet,” said Tilda. “But honestly, are you just shy? There’s plenty of girls here who’d swoon over that bod.” She poked a finger into Harry’s exposed stomach.

Harry let his shirt fall and moved a step away from her. Bloody sharp fingernails. “I’m not interested,” he started, meaning to say I’m not interested in getting off with anyone here because I have a girl back home, only she has a boyfriend and we’re not together right now. The explanation was more than a little convoluted. While Harry was puzzling over a better way to say it, Tilda’s eyes lit up.

“Really?” she chirped. “That’s fantastic. He’ll be over the moon.”

“Who? Why? What are you talking about?”

“Draco.” Tilda patted Harry’s cheeks in what was obviously intended to be an affectionate gesture. Her level of inebriation brought it just shy of GBH. “He’s mad about you, and since you like boys after all –”

“Draco?” repeated Harry. The pain in his face seemed to be diverting a lot of essential blood from his brain.

“How much have you drunk?” Tilda rolled her eyes. “Never mind. You know, Draco. Tall, blonde, tanned, face like a hatchet but nice arms. Always trying to make you notice him. He thinks you’re straight, though, so you better set him right about that.”

“Always trying to make me...”

“He thinks he’s so subtle.” Tilda gave a snuffling laugh. “It’s always ‘Hey Potter, look what I blew up’ or ‘Hey Potter, you smell’ or ‘Hey Potter, want to suck my cock?’”

“He never said that one.” Harry was definite on that point. It was easy to ignore the swooping feeling in his chest. Tilda was drunk. Harry had been drunk, when he’d fondled Draco and kissed his jaw. The two weren’t connected.

“Naw, he just thinks it,” said Tilda. “A lot, judging by how much he stares at you. And it’s tragic, the way you never seem to notice.”

“I ... didn’t. I didn’t notice,” said Harry. “Has he said something to you?”

“Of course not,” scoffed Tilda. “He’s a boy. He’d sooner cut off his feet than talk about feelings. I just watched him watching you. Matter of fact,” she mused, “he might get a bit belligerent if you spring this on him. Maybe you should get him drunk first, then have your wicked way with him.”

“My wicked way?” said Harry, faintly. He thought of Draco’s sweet-smelling hair spread across a pillow, skin laced with sweat as Harry ... as Harry what? Kissed him? Wrung his neck? This was Malfoy, not some pornographic fantasy stand-in.

“Look, there’s Cherub!” Tilda slapped her beer bottle into Harry’s hand. “Mind that for me. Cherub!”

She wriggled away through the crowd. Harry took a look at the half-empty bottle. Curiosity overcame him. Up to now, his experience with alcohol was limited to Butterbeer, one nip of Arthur Weasley’s Firewhiskey and Draco’s infamous moonshine. He took a sip of the beer and almost spat it out again. It was like licking a towel from the Quidditch locker rooms.

Three bottles later, weaving slightly as he walked, Harry decided to revise his opinion. Beer was pretty tasty. He felt a lot calmer than before, if slightly light-headed. So what if he wanted to lick Draco’s ears? Draco wasn’t anywhere nearby. Proximity had been his downfall, not willpower.

“Watch where you’re going!” said a sharp voice, attached to a sharp face, with narrowed grey eyes and fluffy blonde hair.

“Pretty,” slipped out of Harry’s mouth.

“Good God in heaven,” said Draco fervently, as if afraid the plea would be sent to the wrong address. “You’re drunk. Don’t molest me. I mean it. I have a wand and I’ll use it, Muggles be damned.”

“I didn’t molest you the first time,” said Harry, rather proud of how clearly that had come out. “I didn’t. I only licked you because you told me to. You taste nice,” he remembered, smiling.

“What is with you and these drunken gay epiphanies?” demanded Draco. “How much have you had to drink?”

“Three ... no four, of these.” Harry held up the bottle for proof.

“Beer? Just beer? I suppose I should be thankful. If you’d got into the spirits you’d probably be doing a floorshow by now.”

As Draco ranted he threw his eyes up to the ceiling. His hair looked soft. Acting on impulse, Harry cupped the back of Draco’s head, running his fingers through it. Draco froze like a deer in the headlights. For a full five second Harry got to pet him. His hair was soft – not soft like mattresses or velvet or anything else soft Harry had ever felt, but there was no other word for it.

Draco seemed to snap out of a daze. He yanked Harry’s hand away, bending his wrist back to the point of pain. “Don’t touch me again,” he grated out.

“Okay.” The world seemed to be spinning. Harry shook his head, which only made it worse. He staggered slightly and caught Draco’s shoulders for balance. Draco’s admonition faded as Harry saw the creamy skin of Draco’s neck, all exposed as he tried to strongarm Harry away.

Harry had, he just had to lick it. He buried his face in the crook of Draco’s neck, his tongue urgently seeking that delicious little hollow above Draco’s collarbone. He heard a strangled exclamation from Draco as his tongue swirled. Harry’s hands found Draco’s waist and held him still; his squirming was distracting.

Grisiti!” shouted Draco. His wand jabbed Harry in the stomach a second before invisible insects armed with bayonets began stabbing every inch of Harry’s skin. He dropped to the floor in a huddle, biting his tongue to stop himself screaming.

In a few seconds the sensations faded. Harry was left with nothing but a headache that clanged relentlessly against his temples. He uncurled his limbs. Using the wall for leverage, he shoved himself upright.

Draco looked scared, defensive and unapologetic, all at once. “I didn’t know what else – you asked for it.”

Harry held out his arms, expecting to see hundreds of lacerations. The skin was smooth and unbroken. “What the hell was that?”

“Instant sobriety spell,” said Draco. “That’s why most people use potions.”

Harry looked around. There were people all around, but none of them were paying him the least bit of attention. Further inspection informed him as to why. Nearly everyone was replaying the scene Harry had just enacted, from crouching down (to vomit), falling around in drunken incoordination, to...

Kissing...

“Shit,” said Harry. The events of the last few seconds returned to him with full force. “I didn’t.”

“You did.” Draco looked grim. “I’m not sure what Muggles think of homosexual activities, so I had to stop you.”

Harry stared at him. That wasn’t quite the answer he’d been expecting. It lacked Draco cursing him for a million generations, for one thing.

Under Harry’s eye, Draco flushed. It was hardly noticeable, except that Harry was noticing, and remembering Tilda’s cryptic comments.

“Not that I would have let you keep going either way,” snapped Draco, several beats too late. “You were ... I mean, you were drunk.”

“Not anymore.” Harry drove his fingers into his head, hoping to scare away the pain. “We’d better get out of here before the Ministry goons arrive.”

“You think it’ll look better if I did magic in some other Muggle’s house?”

“Yeah – the Dursley’s,” said Harry shortly. “They track wands, not locations. Come on.”

Draco said softly, “Why, Potter. I didn’t think you cared.”

Harry bit his lips and pretended not to hear. He forced his way through the crowd to the front door, picking up Dudley along the way.

“Are you guys leaving?” he said.

“Yeah,” said Harry. “Bit of an emergency.”

“Totally,” said Dudley. “There’s no crisps left in the whole house. I checked. I’ll come with you.”

“What about Piers and Cherub?” asked Harry.

“Last I saw of Cherub, he had his tongue so far down Tilda’s throat he could probably taste her intestines,” said Dudley. He sounded vicariously proud of his friend’s achievements, without any apparent desire to emulate them. “Piers’ll be fine. What about Draco?”

“He’s coming,” said Harry.

The fresh air hit Harry like an ice pick. What he really wanted to do was lie down on the grass and wait a few years for his headache to recede. But Draco had caught up to Dudley and they were already at the pavement.

Piers strolled round the side of the house, Cherub in tow, as Harry kicked open the garden gate.

“You lot aren’t going home, are you?” teased Piers. “Me’n Cherub have come up with the greatest idea for a prank.”

“I’m in,” said Draco.

“The Ministry,” mouthed Harry. Draco shrugged.

“Do you see them? I don’t. They’ll probably come in the morning, by which time I’ll be safe in bed with an excellent alibi.”

Harry frowned. The letter prompted by Dobby’s raid had arrived almost instantaneously, but that had been during the day. Probably the Department Magical Law Enforcement kept to office hours when dealing with transgressions.

Piers had appropriated spray cans of paint on his travels. He and Cherub were conspiring as they jogged ahead of the other three, leading the way. Harry was trying to follow Dudley and Draco’s hushed conversation – which had something to do with Karen – when he felt it again: the itch of someone watching him.

He loosened his wand in his shorts and rotated slowly in a circle. There was no one around, but he was certain he heard a rustle near the rosebush in Number Seven’s garden.

“Malfoy,” he called quietly. Draco tossed his head, evidently hearing but ignoring him. Harry sprinted forward and caught at Draco’s elbow. Draco pulled it away.

“God, aren’t you done touching me up for one night?” he said. Dudley’s mouth went into an O.

“I need to talk to you,” said Harry. “Now.”

“Fine, fine.” Draco made a production of brushing off his arm, but it was clear he’d picked up the urgency in Harry’s tone. “Excuse me for a moment, Lee.”

“Are you two ... okay?” asked Dudley. He looked like he’d just found out that the sun rose in the east.

“We’re dandy,” snapped Harry. He yanked Draco closer and whispered in his ear, “I think we’re being followed.”

“Is that all?” Draco laughed. “It’s probably some drunken reveller who’s lost his way. Or one of a hundred other people who has every right to be out at night, same as us. How do you know they’re following us?”

“I don’t know.” Harry swallowed. “I didn’t see them.”

“So now it’s invisible stalkers?” Draco slid his arm out of Harry’s grasp and stepped away. “Get a grip. And for the love of Merlin, stop touching me.”

He stomped off after Dudley. Harry remained standing for a few seconds, his eyes scoping out the darkness. There was the tiniest of noises from the rosebush, like a gasp hastily smothered. Harry waited, but there were no more sounds, and no attacks.

He slipped out his wand and held it against his forearm before running to join the others.

+++

Piers’ great idea involved bringing the municipal swimming pool and his misappropriated paint cans into sudden and unholy union.

Harry had to admit that Piers wasn’t bad at graffiti. He did have a tendency to draw women who looked like the contents of their bikinis had been blown up with bicycle pumps, but Harry didn’t feel he was in a position to comment.

Piers’ chosen canvas was the outer wall of the changing rooms, which fronted the still waters of the pool. Floodlights had come on when they entered, triggered by their movement, but as yet no one had arrived to investigate.

“Nothing to rob from a pool,” was Piers’ succinct comment.

Cherub and Dudley were busy colouring in behind Piers: it was clearly a task they’d performed many times before. Piers took a break between busts and tossed a can each to Harry and Draco.

“Make yourselves useful,” he said.

Harry had to laugh; his spray-can was green, Draco’s red.

“We can swap if you like,” he said, thinking red might offend Draco’s Slytherin sensibilities.

“Why?” asked Draco. “I like red.” Quick as blinking, he aimed the nozzle and covered Harry’s chest in paint.

“Hey!” Harry waved away the stinking fumes.

“Yes,” mused Draco, “it’s definitely your colour.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed. Draco wasn’t going to get away with that, he vowed. A minute later, Draco’s hair was an attractive shade of lime.

“My hair, what have you done to my hair?” shrieked Draco.

“Keep it down!” said Piers.

Dudley, oblivious to the altercation, surveyed his work. “All done.”

“Paint fight!” said Cherub gleefully, and smothered Dudley’s back in blue.

For a few minutes the sound of enraged shouts and the hiss of escaping gas filled the air. Then, one by one, the boys ran out of paint.

“Look at the floor,” groaned Piers, whose face was dripping purple. They all looked down: the tiles were a mess of swirled colours with stamped-out footprints. “It’s so messy,” he lamented.

“This stuff feels gross,” observed Dudley. He rubbed his nose with his shirt-sleeve, to no visible effect.

“We’re standing in front of a huge bath,” Piers pointed out. “Who’s for a swim?”

“Good idea.” Dudley pulled off his t-shirt. Harry averted his eyes from the rings of man-flesh thus revealed. Piers stepped out of his flip-flops, and even Cherub was undoing the fastenings of his combats.

“But we haven’t any swimming trunks,” said Draco.

“Skinny-dipping!” said Dudley. He dive-bombed the pool. Harry covered his eyes, but it was clear from Draco’s gasp that he’d got an eyeful of lardy-arse.

Piers made a neat dive. Harry decided he had nothing to be ashamed of, at least if compared to Piers. He slipped off his flip-flops.

“Scared?” he said, unable to resist bumping Draco’s shoulder.

“Not on your life.” Draco instantly began stripping. Harry wanted to watch, but the desire was overridden by horror at wanting to do something so deviant, and also fear that Draco would punch his lights out.

Cherub had climbed to the top of the diving board. He spread his arms wide. Harry held his breath. Bathed in moonlight, his stubbled head barely visible, Cherub looked like one of those white statues Harry had seen in the National Gallery. Cherub dropped forwards and folded up in midair, entering the water with scarcely a ripple.

Well, he had been sleeping with his swim coach.

Harry dragged off the rest of his clothes and tucked his glasses underneath them. Draco was testing the water with his toe. The movement sculpted his behind in a way that made Harry need to be underwater right now.

He couldn’t resist shoving Draco in first, though. Unfortunately, Draco seemed to be anticipating such a move, for he twisted and pinned Harry as he fell. They hit the water with a painful smack.

Harry gasped for air and got a mouthful of water instead. He clawed at Draco, trying to reach the surface. Draco’s arms went around him, holding him under. Their bodies slithered together. Harry surged and his head broke the water. He pushed Draco under before kicking away, half-laughing, half-gasping.

Draco came up spluttering. “You – you underhanded slug, you’ll pay for that!”

“Fair’s fair!” shouted Harry. “You tried to drown me!”

“I did not!”

Then what was that hug thing about, Harry wondered – only briefly, for now Cherub was ducking him.

Harry rolled away, his vision full of bubbles. His hands hit the side and he clung on.

Dudley had flopped out of the pool to dive-bomb again. Cherub abandoned Harry in favour of turning somersaults under water, and Draco...

Draco was floating, chest upwards, arms outstretched. His honey-coloured skin looked even more inviting when wet. Harry felt his throat move against the side of the pool as his breathing became shallower. Heat stirred between his legs. He wasn’t even drunk, he thought despairingly. His unfortunate reaction was probably a coincidence. It had to be.

Harry got a grip on himself before he had to get a grip on himself. It was the perfect opportunity for revenge, nothing more.

He slithered away from the wall of the pool and paddled towards Draco. The sounds and splashes from Dudley and Piers’ water-fight muffled his own. Before Draco could so much as open his eyes, Harry had two hands on his chest and was pushing downwards.

Draco sank with a gargled scream. Harry’s triumph was short-lived; he felt a hand curl around his ankle and tug mightily. Harry kicked, but this only gave his other ankle into Draco’s possession. The water closed over his head once more.

Draco’s hands slid up to his knees, holding tight, preventing him from floating upwards. His torso was slick against Harry’s thighs – if he wasn’t careful he might feel –

Harry brought his knees up to his chest, shaking off Draco’s grip. They both hit topside at the same time. Unable to help himself, Harry laughed. After a moment, Draco joined in.

The previously muffled sounds of Dudley and Piers’ epic battle raged on, louder and unabated. Cherub was lying on the side of the pool, one leg trailing in the water. He was smiling at his friends’ antics, and rubbing his belly.

Wait, Harry thought, his face flaming, that’s not his belly...

Draco’s eyes were wide when Harry glanced at him. He seemed to be breathing faster than normal, too, and he didn’t object when Harry floated closer to him.

Cherub’s hand was slow and steady, his expression blissful. Harry had just wound up enough courage to touch Draco’s shoulder when Cherub spoke.

“It’s impolite to stare,” he said. His eyes were slits as he brought his thumb to his mouth and licked it.

Harry paused, one hand floating on the water separating him and Draco. Their eyes met. Draco’s gaze was unreadable, but he stopped treading water with one hand and slid it under. Harry could see a flurry of movement, distorted by refraction. It made him hot in a way staring at Cherub hadn’t even come near.

Following Draco’s lead, Harry closed one hand around his straining cock. His fingers were cold against the warm skin. The water felt like silk against his over-sensitized body. He sighed in relief.

Only to have his erection shrivel up in horror when high heels clipped against the tile, and an amused female voice said, “Hello, Draco darling.”

+++

“I told you we were being followed,” muttered Harry, shoving his head into an arm-hole.

“Shut up, shut up,” hissed Draco. He was hopping on one leg, trying to get his shorts on (and what made Harry’s heart speed up: he wasn’t wearing a thing underneath them). “This is so incredibly not the time.”

“Are you ready yet?” A tinge of impatience marred Narcissa Malfoy’s well-modulated voice.

“Mother! Don’t peek!”

“I did give birth to you, you know,” said Narcissa. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“Seven hells,” Draco swore. He stabbed his feet into his flip-flops. “All right, you can look now.”

“No she can’t!” howled three voices.

Draco strode around the side of the changing rooms. Harry followed in time to see Draco embrace his mother in a bear hug that dislodged her artfully sculpted hair-do.

Narcissa hugged back briefly before stepping away, her hands flying to her jewelled hair-clasp. “You’ve grown,” she accused her son. “And – Merlin’s trousers, what have you done to your hair?”

“Is it still green? Damn it, Potter. He –” Draco jerked his thumb at Harry “– fancied himself an amateur hairdresser.”

“Oh my.” Narcissa’s hands were at her mouth. “I don’t think it’s a terribly promising career move for him.”

“Never mind the stupid sod,” said Draco, “what are you doing here?”

“I came to see you, my dragon.” Narcissa pinched Draco’s cheek. Something about her mouth suggested to Harry that she knew exactly how embarrassing it was for him. “I wanted to find out how you were getting along with the filthy Muggles. Snape’s reports are so unsatisfactory. It’s all ‘he’s fine, stop fussing’ or ‘he never stops eating’ or ‘do you actually want to know how much he talks about Potter or will I spare us both the agony?’”

Harry raised his eyebrows. Draco muttered something about ‘plotting your painful demise.’

“Filthy Muggles?” repeated Harry.

Narcissa took stock of him for the first time, her eyes raking over his scar. Her thin lips curved into a smile. Although her appearance was polished – well-cut robes, diamond earrings, up-till-recently perfectly coiffed hair – she was like Draco: attractive, but not good-looking.

“It’s just a figure of speech,” she said. “You know. Like ‘The Boy Who Lived.’”

“Don’t flatter his ego,” grouched Draco. “It’s already the size of Africa.”

“I wasn’t,” said Narcissa. “It was just a reminder.”

She smiled again, and Harry shivered. That cold expression was something she most emphatically did not share with Draco – Draco who was all fire and brimstone, Draco who was as reckless as any Gryffindor when it came to running his mouth.

“Come, Draco,” said Narcissa. “Introduce me to your ... friends.”

“You know who Harry is,” said Draco, sounding surprised.

“Your other friends,” said Narcissa, with light emphasis. “The Muggle ones.”

“Oh, right. Them.” Draco led his mother poolside. “That’s Piers. Cherub is the one with the bald head, and Lee has the misfortune to be Potter’s first cousin.”

“That,” said Narcissa, “is possibly the least courteous introduction I’ve ever heard.” She glided over to Piers and kissed him on both cheeks. “Hello – Piers, was it? Charming name, just charming. I’m Draco’s mother.”

“Huh,” said Piers, sounding a little dazed, with lipstick smears on his cheeks.

“Can you stay long?” Draco asked his mother. Harry wondered if anyone else could hear the bare naked longing in his voice. Harry didn’t like Narcissa Malfoy, but he couldn’t fault Draco for loving her.

“An hour or two,” said Narcissa. “I don’t want your father to know I’m gone. He’ll be up soon, doing our Lord’s business.”

“You were the one following us here?” Harry persisted.

“Indeed. I thought it best that no one saw me entering your safehouse.”

“Right.” Harry ran a hand through his wet hair. Narcissa’s robe had long sleeves. She could be leading them into a trap. If he pulled his wand now, would he have time to Stun her before Draco got him?

“Oh dear!” Narcissa’s hand went to her hair. “Great-Aunt Sophia’s amethyst comb! I must have dropped it behind that squalid little hut. Draco, be a darling and fetch it for me.”

“I’ll help,” said Piers throatily. Draco gave him an odd look as they moved to do his mother’s bidding.

As soon as Draco’s back was turned, Narcissa took Harry’s arm in a grip so tight his fingers began to tingle. He knew he should have Stunned her when he had the chance.

“Can you get a message to Dumbledore?” she breathed into his ear.

“What?”

“A message. To. Dumbledore.” She shook his arm. “Can you do it?”

Harry shook his head. “Snape is the only one who knows how to contact him.”

“Snape is the reason I need Dumbledore. Is there something in his quarters, some device for emergencies?”

“Malfoy would know that, not me. They sleep in the same room.”

“Draco can know nothing of this!” Narcissa’s eyes were wild. “He must know as little as possible, so he will have as little as possible to tell if he is captured and tortured.”

“We would never torture people!”

“Are you sure of that?” Narcissa released his arm. “Besides, I was not talking of your side. Tell me quickly, how essential are these Muggles? Can I dispose of them?”

“I’m not going to let you kill them!” said Harry.

Narcissa made an impatient noise. “I had no intention of doing so. A Killing Curse would alert every Death Eater and Ministry hag in ten miles to my presence. I suppose I can always Obliviate them later.”

“There was no sign of the comb.” Draco emerged, looking puzzled.

“I know. It was in my hair all the time.” Narcissa gave a tinkly little laugh. “How silly of me.”

“Are you all right?” Draco stared at his mother.

“Absolutely. Never better.” In a whisper, Narcissa said to Harry, “You, get my son.”

With unprecedented speed, or possibly a Summoning Charm, Narcissa had Dudley and Cherub by the collar. In the same time, Harry gingerly put a hand on Draco’s shoulder. Catching on, Draco grabbed Piers’ shirtfront. Narcissa took Harry’s hand and they were spinning, spinning, spinning out of time...

part vi
 
 
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