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31 May 2008 @ 10:19 pm
HP fic: Quantum Leap (2/6)  


part i

Harry was drinking his cereal the next morning, and minding his own business, when he was rudely interrupted. Milk streaming down his chin, Harry turned to confront Draco, who was prosing from the prime spot in front of the fan.

“- funny thing, Snape’s charms get really weak really quickly, and it’s not like Snape doesn’t have the tenacity of a bulldog. His charms should last for days without him needing to top them up. Yet here I am, boiling to death. The incongruity is striking.”

Draco’s hair was blowing back from his face. Tendrils were getting caught in his mouth as he prattled on. He kept tugging them away.

“I think –” Draco paused, his lip curling. “You have milk. On your chin. Oh sweet Merlin, are you drinking from the bowl?”

“The milk sours if you leave it out too long!”

“It won’t if you don’t want it to,” said Draco. “You have magical powers - remember those? The Underage Wizarding restrictions were put in place to curtail excessive magic-using in children, but they can’t legislate for unconscious wish-fulfilment. Here.” He yanked the bowl out of Harry’s hands. “Get a spoon. The milk won’t spoil.”

Harry did as he was bid, with bad grace. However, when he swallowed the first mouthful he discovered that the milk was icy cold – just the way he liked it.

Draco was watching him. “I’m surprised the Mudblood didn’t tell you about that loophole. It’s hardly possible she didn’t know about it.”

“Don’t call Hermione that!” Harry slapped the spoon into the bowl so hard that milk splashed everywhere. Draco flinched. “This is my home – sort of – and you’re only here on sufferance, so be civil or be quiet.”

“Civil it is, then,” sighed Draco.

Harry ate in silence for a few more minutes, before Draco felt obliged to mar his peace once more.

“What’s this Stonewall place like, then?” he asked.

Harry shrugged. “Dunno,” he said with his mouth full. “Never been there.”

“We’re going to be spending the next six months there, at least. Aren’t you at all curious?”

“No,” said Harry. He slurped away the last of his breakfast, enjoying the pained expression on Draco’s face, and clattered the bowl into the sink. “See you.”

“Where are you going?”

“To check on my owl, see if she’s brought letters from my friends the pureblood traitors,” said Harry. “And then I have to mow the lawn.”

“I shall ask Lee if he wants to visit our new school together,” announced Draco.

“Wow, I’m sorry,” said Harry. “Are you mistaking me for someone who cares what you do?” He shoved his shoulder into Draco’s. “Move.”

The weather had to be turning them all a little loopy, Harry decided. If he hadn’t known better, he might have thought he’d just had a half-civilised conversation with Draco Malfoy.

+++

Harry was ensconced in the shed, filling up the petrol tank in the lawnmower, when pitiful wails tore through the silence. Forces were at work that were greater than his comprehension; someone really didn’t want him to mow the lawn.

Harry abandoned his task and stepped out into the blazing morning sunshine. A small, offensively ugly monster was rolling around in what was left of the herbaceous border. Dumbledore stood over it, a gold watch dangling from his fingers.

“Ah, there you are,” said Dumbledore, as Harry emerged.

“Did you get my letter, sir?” asked Harry eagerly.

“I did. And I’m sorry, but your request is impossible for me to fulfil.”

“But why?” Harry was severely disappointed. “The Weasleys are getting taught at home, and Hermione with them – they said so in their last letter. I don’t see why –”

“Don’t you?” Dumbledore stroked his beard. “You can’t think of one reason why it would be safer for you to remain here, under your aunt’s protection?”

“Oh, well, but,” said Harry, “it’s not very safe for them, is it? While I’m here?”

“Actually, the protection works both ways,” said Dumbledore. “So long as you remain under this roof, Voldemort will not be able to attack you. When you are at Hogwarts, he has ample opportunity to raze this place to the ground. That he has not already done so merely means he regards you as the prime target. But he would not scruple to do so, if he thought it would anger you.”

“It wouldn’t,” said Harry. A flame of defiance forced the words from his mouth, although they left him slightly sickened.

“I am sorry to hear that. I understand that your aunt and uncle, as guardians, are not ... all that I could have wished. However, to know that you do not care if they live or die – that is deeply mortifying to me.”

“I’m sure it is. It was your decision to abandon me here, after all.” The contemplation of a bleak vista, which encompassed a houseful of Dursleys and Slytherins for months and months, made Harry sharper than he intended. “I can still go to the Burrow for my birthday, can’t I?”

“But of course,” said Dumbledore. “Only between sun-up and sun-down, however. You cannot stay the night, or the protection will fail.”

“Better and better,” muttered Harry.

“I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you brought an extra guest,” said Dumbledore. “Or two.”

“If you mean Malfoy and Snape,” said Harry, “then I hope you’re joking. Living with them is bad enough, never mind taking them somewhere I actually want to enjoy myself.”

“So charitable!” called Draco, from the kitchen window. “One might almost have mistaken you for a Hufflepuff.” He disappeared again, sniggering. Harry bit back a snarl.

“See what I mean?” he exclaimed.

“My dear boy.” Dumbledore laid a heavy hand on Harry’s shoulder. “You are not the only one with burdens – not the only one with a grim road to travel. If kindness has not often been shown you in your life, there is all the more reason why you should cultivate it in your own self.”

“I’m extremely kind to Malfoy,” said Harry. “For example, I haven’t killed him at all yet.”

“Malfoy!” The creature rolling in the dirt sat up, its exultant tone belying its grubby, tear-streaked face. “Did I hear the name of the beautiful son of the House of Black, the pureblood hope?”

“No, you heard the name Malfoy, idiot supreme and racist twit,” snapped Harry. “Professor, what is that slimeball of an elf doing here?”

“His name is Kreacher, as you very well know,” said Dumbledore, “and it has recently fallen to my lot to deliver him to you, as part of your inheritance.”

“That’s okay, I’m good.”

“The situation is a little less simple than that.” Dumbledore tucked his watch into his waistcoat, after noting the time. “Twelve point three minutes of continuous bewailing of your lot. Impressive.”

Kreacher preened. “Kreacher thanks the traitorous Muggle-loving pervert.”

“Oy, that’s enough out of you.” Harry aimed a kick at Kreacher’s head. It failed to connect and he instead toppled some of the rockery.

“Since your godfather and his brother both died leaving no issue,” intervened Dumbledore, who was starting to look as though he felt the heat, “and Sirius’ will leaves Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place in your possession, we must perform the test that ascertains your ownership of a pureblood estate.”

Harry’s fingers and toes tingled as the blood drained out of them. The world swayed around him, and he grabbed the nearest thing to support himself. Unfortunately, this turned out to be Kreacher’s bald head. Harry snatched his hand back.

“Sirius’ will?” he repeated. “Sirius made a will?”

“Of course. It was during his imprisonment in Azkaban, I believe, when he thought he would never leave.”

“And he still willed it to me?”

“You were the only thing left in the world he had permission to love,” said Dumbledore gently. “There was no worthier candidate for his inheritance.”

Harry gulped back a sob. “So he’s really – he’s really – but the curtain, I thought, maybe –”

“I’m so sorry, Harry.” Dumbledore gripped Harry’s shoulder again, hard enough to bruise. “You’ve suffered so much loss already. I wish I could say people return from Hell’s Portal, but I have never heard of it happening.”

“Hell’s Portal?” The words stuck in Harry’s throat. “Sirius is in hell?”

Dumbledore looked uncomfortable. “An unfortunate misnomer. The curtain is not in the Department of Mysteries for nothing. No one knows where it leads; the only fact known is that no one who once ventures through ever emerges again.”

“Oh.” Harry took a shuddering breath. His glazed eyes took in Kreacher, who was caressing the dislodged stones from the rockery with a meaningful expression.

Sirius hated Kreacher. Sirius would want him to honour his inheritance. Sirius was dead.

“What do you want to do?” Harry asked the house-elf.

“Kreacher misunderstands the filthy half-blood,” said Kreacher, but there was definite confusion on his face.

“Do you want to stay at Grimmauld Place? Or is there someone else you’d rather serve?”

“Kreacher is – Kreacher does not know –” Kreacher looked down at the ground and up at the sky, as if they would inspire him.

“You can do what you like,” said Harry, infinitely weary all of a sudden. “My only order to you is to tell no one else what you’ve heard in Grimmauld Place since Sirius ... since he died. Including Mrs Malfoy. Is that clear?”

Kreacher mimed a zipping motion across his mouth.

At that moment Draco sauntered into the garden, nibbling at his fourteenth ice-cream of the day. “Does anyone happen to know if these are all fat-free?” he asked no one in particular. “I know Lee’s supposed to be on this diet, but I also know he buys full-cream tubs of the stuff on the sly.”

“Who is Lee?” said Harry in disgust.

“Oh, Potter. I didn’t see you there, all skulking-like.” Draco sent Harry a brilliant smile, which was a little dimmed by the strawberry smudges around his mouth. “I was referring to your cousin. Large individual, sleeps in the ice-box? I’ve decided to call him Lee. Dudley is a most unfortunate name.”

“I see what you mean, Draco,” said Harry.

While this conversation was taking place, Kreacher had stopped his perusal of the inspirational cumulous and sidled up to Draco, an adoring expression on his face.

“Kreacher wishes to serve the beautiful master,” he simpered.

“How perfect,” said Harry. “Perfectly sickening, that is.”

“You did promise –” began Dumbledore.

“I know. Malfoy, say hello to Kreacher – your new house-elf.”

Draco, to his credit, looked neither affronted nor alarmed, although Harry would have felt both on being confronted with the nauseating smile on Kreacher’s face.

“You’re serious,” he said.

“As cancer,” said Harry. “He was mine, now he’s yours, you’re not allowed to tell him to kill me, enjoy.”

“House-elves are forbidden from doing mortal harm to humans,” whispered Dumbledore.

“Excellent,” purred Draco. He patted Kreacher’s head and didn’t even wince. “A dry Martini on the rocks, no twist, and keep them coming.”

+++

“– and now they’re living in the basement with Kreacher,” finished Harry.

He was sitting in state at the head of the Weasley dining table. Hermione and Ron were clustered as his elbow, and Ginny listened in as she polished off the treacle tart.

“Phew.” Ron gave vent to his feelings. “That’s full-on, mate. What was Dumbledore thinking?”

“Or was he even thinking? I’m just not sure,” said Harry.

“Well –” Hermione looked thoughtful, chewing absently on her little fingernail “- perhaps it’s his way of ensuring House solidarity.”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “Because everyone knows barely-concealed murderous urges are the way to go with that.” He shivered. “Is it me, or is it freezing in here?”

Ron and Hermione exchanged looks. They were both bundled up in chunky sweaters and scarves.

“That might be because you’re in shorts and sandals,” said Ginny, her chin tucked into the collar of the lambswool dressing-gown she’d pulled on over her party frock. “Er – not that it isn’t a good look for you.”

“They’re flip-flops, actually.” Harry wriggled his toes, which were turning blue.

“We did tell you about the mist,” said Ron. He turned to Hermione for confirmation. “We did tell him about the mist?”

“It’s the Dementors,” she said. “Ever since the break-out from Azkaban, they’ve been multiplying like mad. This miasma is actually clouds of despair.”

Harry was caught on ‘multiplying.’ “Dementors having sex?” He pushed away his dessert dish. “I’ve suddenly lost my appetite.”

“It’s probably more like binary fission.” Hermione sounded disapproving.

Ginny hooked Harry’s dish with her spoon. “No need to be coy. There’s nothing more natural than the physical act of love.”

“In this case, I’m all in favour of enforced sterilisation,” said Hermione dryly. “Of course, the Ministry’s trying to play everything down, not to mention that it fits right in with the weird weather everywhere else in England.”

“I’m going to grab a jumper,” said Harry. “You don’t mind?”

“Of course not.” Ron waved him away.

Harry expected to be swamped with longing when he entered Ron’s familiar bedroom. He’d been forced to endure the Dursleys for two months, and Snape and Draco for a week that felt like two months; his desire to leave should have increased exponentially. And he no doubt that it had, except that he had no room at the minute to feel anything but the cold creeping into places it really shouldn’t.

He hurriedly hauled on a ragged polo-neck and a Weasley jumper, teeth chattering. He was still looking for some jeans or tracksuit pants when Ginny knocked at the open door. Not waiting to be invited, she slipped inside. She was wearing high heels with gold straps that matched her dress. They made her the same height as Harry, who’d grown a few inches since May.

“Aren’t you cold?” asked Harry, in reference to the fact that Ginny had forgotten her dressing-gown. Her dress was strapless, baring smooth freckled shoulders.

“Nah,” said Ginny, who was briskly rubbing the circulation back into her arms.

“Really? I still am. And I can’t find a pair of trousers anywhere.”

Ginny stepped in behind him and threaded her arms around his waist. “Let me warm you up.” Her voice was muffled against the prickly wool of Harry’s jumper.

“That’s okay,” said Harry, “I’m fine, really –” He yelped as cold lips met the back of his neck.

“Did I hurt you?” cried Ginny, as Harry stumbled over the desk chair. She put out two hands to steady him and Harry found himself staring straight down her cleavage.

“Um,” he said, blushing furiously.

“Are you still cold?” whispered Ginny. “I’m feeling pretty ... hot.”

“You are? Oh.” Harry jumped when Ginny leaned down. “Aren’t you – Dean Thomas?”

“Well, yeah.” Ginny shrugged. “Dean isn’t here, though. Don’t you want to kiss me?”

“No!” Ginny stepped back, looking hurt. “I mean, yes! Very much. I’d like to kiss you. But not when you’re going out with my friend.”

Ginny looked instantly more cheerful. “What if I broke up with Dean?” She brushed her fingers across Harry’s lips, making him shiver: her hands were cold as ice.

“Then, after a certain mourning period, we could possibly do a lot of kissing,” said Harry firmly. He felt a twinge of regret at passing on this fine opportunity; but on the other hand, the first time he kissed Ginny he’d quite like to be able to feel it.

Ginny heaved a great sigh. “It’s your call.” She sauntered to the door and struck a pose, hand on hip. Breathing suddenly became difficult as Harry realised just how gauzy the material of her dress was, and how little she seemed to be wearing under it. The cold had one – or two – advantages that he could now appreciate. “But you don’t know what you’re missing. I’m a great kisser.” She blew him a kiss and wandered downstairs.

“Oh boy.” Harry took a few deep breaths. He looked down. “Why can’t we ever agree?” he demanded. “Now is not the time.”

Then, because it was too cold to do otherwise, he wrapped himself in Ron’s quilt and went back to the living room, where there was a fire.

+++

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

“It’s huge,” said Draco, awestruck.

Dudley nodded his agreement. “I’ve never seen a bigger tub of ice-cream in my life. Not even in Tesco.”

“Kreacher did well?” Kreacher clasped his hands, trying, and failing, to look winning.

Draco looked around Dudley’s bedroom. At nine o’clock that morning, it had been a stuffy ruin, coated with dust and bird droppings. Dudley hadn’t had reason to use it since the heatwave hit, sleeping, as he did, in the kitchen, with his Playstation hooked up to the living room television.

Now it was a veritable wonderland. By making full use of Kreacher’s kleptomaniac tendencies, the two boys had assembled no less than three desk-fans, mounted in various corners of the room. The place was sparkling clean; all that was broken, fixed; and a mountain of goodies took pride of place next to the fish tank.

“I think it’s safe to say you’ve pleased your master,” said Draco. “Although, I’m still not entirely convinced about the goldfish.”

“Kreacher likes a snack now and then, gracious sir.”

“Now I’m convinced and nauseated,” said Draco. “You may retire for the evening, Kreacher. Lee tells me there’s a cupboard under the stairs you can sleep in.”

“Beautiful, kind master,” crooned Kreacher. “If sir needs anything else, sir only has to call Kreacher and he will come running!”

“Yes, you’ve made that abundantly clear,” murmured Draco. With a crack, the elf disappeared.

“That’s well cool,” said Dudley. “Wish I had one.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” said Draco. “Muggles can’t own slaves, remember?”

Dudley looked very much as if he would make an exception in this case. To distract him, Draco handed him a spoon.

“He even got the TV working!” said Dudley. “The man at Currys said it was beyond repair.”

“What happened to the TV?”

“Oh, I put my foot through it when a show got cancelled,” said Dudley. Draco looked at him in admiration. It was just what he’d have done.

“What do you want to watch?” asked Dudley. “I have all the Rambos, all the Bonds, and a lot of porn. And Seinfeld.”

“I somehow doubt your porn would be to my tastes,” said Draco. “What’s this Seinfeld about, then?”

Some hours later, Draco had got over the first wonder of television. He’d stopped answering the onscreen actors as if they were talking to him, and eventually remembered to blink. Dudley was just as happy to eat the ice-cream without him.

“That,” said Draco, slightly shaken, “was quite seriously impressive.”

“Yes, it was.” Dudley burped. He cast a regretful glance at his weight machine, but in spite of the three fans it was still too warm to attempt a work-out.

Draco leaned back against the bed and stretched out his long, still frightfully pale, legs in front of him. Malfoy Manor was very poorly situated in the middle of a dell, and caught no sunlight from any direction. He’d had every intention of doing some serious sunbathing that morning, but Dudley had chased him inside with dire imprecations on his dangerous plan.

“Why are you here?” asked Dudley.

“Because my mother had a duty to produce an heir for my father,” said Draco promptly.

“No, I mean why are you here - here in this house? You aren’t friends with Harry.”

Draco shuddered. “Perish the thought.”

“So why?”

“Do you really want to know? I’m not supposed to tell anyone.”

“Then don’t go into specifics,” said Dudley. “That always got me out of trouble. Until I was expelled.”

“I’m supposed to murder someone so my father won’t be killed,” said Draco in a great rush.

“Well.” There was no sound for a time bar Dudley’s heavy breathing. “That was actually pretty specific.”

“No, specific would be the plans I came up with to carry out said murder, before circumstances intervened.”

“Such as?”

“The first thing I thought of was a cursed necklace,” said Draco.

“Cursed?” Dudley looked blank.

“Ah, Muggle. I forgot.” Draco struggled for a moment to translate. “It has spell on it – you know what spells are, yes? – that makes anyone who wears it die.”

“Hmm.” Dudley shifted around on the bed. It creaked under his bulk. “Can these spell things be traced? You know, like fingerprints?”

“I think it’s possible to identify the magical signature, as long as the spell isn’t too old,” said Draco. “Why?”

“Because that makes it a stupid plan,” said Dudley. Draco bristled. “If it were an invisible spell, okay, maybe. But someone puts on necklace and kicks the bucket straight off, people are gonna be suspicious. They’re gonna ask, ‘So who gave the stiff the necklace?’” Warming to his theme, Dudley sat up in bed. “Plus, if they can trace the magic back to you, they will. It’s not like they’re looking around for some killing object they don’t know about, while the spell gets cold. They have it right there, fresh off the mark.”

“Huh.” Draco pulled his lip. “I never thought of that. Good thing I abandoned that idea anyway. I actually decided to poison them instead.”

“Better,” acknowledged Dudley. “But how were you going to do it?”

In a small voice, Draco ventured, “Poison some wine and give it to someone who’d pass it on to the person as a gift?”

“Covering your back: always a good move,” said Dudley. “Unlikely anyone would be able to pin it on you this time. On the other hand, there’s too many intervening variables. What if someone else drank the wine? Or the pigeon you gave it to didn’t give it away like he was supposed to? Poisoning is something you have to do over a long time, sprinkling a bit in their food every day, so they look like they’re getting sick naturally.”

“I wouldn’t have enough access to the person to do that,” said Draco. “Hey, you’re rather good at this.”

“I watch a lot of cop shows.” Still, Dudley couldn’t help but preen.

“What would you do, in my position? Where you had to kill someone you didn’t particularly like, but didn’t hate either, to save your family?”

“That’s easy,” said Dudley. “I’d make us new identities and head to Brazil until the fuss died down.”

Draco nodded. “That’s pretty much what happened to me. My mother made Snape and I swear an Unbreakable Vow that neither of us would kill D – the person I’m supposed to murder. The Dark – the man in charge doesn’t know it yet, but once he does, we’re officially on the run.”

“Or you could pretend,” said Dudley, “that you’re still on the mark’s tail, I mean. You could act like that’s why you moved here – to stalk him better.”

Draco was much struck. “That’s not a bad idea at all,” he said. “Lee, I’m very glad I met you.”

“Likewise,” said Dudley.

+++

Harry hadn’t imagined that he would have such good luck as to find a trundle wheel in Uncle Vernon’s shed; but Uncle Vernon was the sort of man who paid other men to put up shelves for him, and consequently there was not even so much as a measuring tape on the property. Harry was forced to resort to rummaging in Dudley’s second-hand junk for a ruler, which he was now using to measure the perimeter of the house.

Somewhere between the laundry window and the back door, Draco emerged from the house. He crept up on Harry as noiselessly as a cat and watched him work with an expression of deep amusement.

Harry was alerted to his presence only when he started to measure across Draco’s feet. Draco obligingly fell back a pace or two and said, “I’d ask what you were doing, but then you might stop, and this is too entertaining to miss.”

“What makes you think I’d answer you anyway?” growled Harry. He shuffled a few inches across on his knees, wishing there was some way to speed up what he was doing and save his dignity.

“Fair argument,” said Draco. “Then again, you’ve always been dreadfully easy to provoke.”

Harry sat back on his heels to dispute the point, only to realise he was proving it. With careless unconcern, Draco set about unfolding a deck chair in the scant shade of a dying sycamore.

“Where’d you get that?”

“It was in the basement,” said Draco. “Lee said I could use it.”

“Stop calling him that!”

“Why? He doesn’t mind.” Draco brushed off the worst of the dust from the chair. “There. Not bad for Muggle workmanship. Now all that stands between me and perfection is – Kreacher!”

Kreacher materialised, breathless. “How may I serve the exquisite master today?”

“Make me some lemonade,” said Draco. Harry couldn’t suppress a derisive snort. “Oh, and whatever he’s having, I suppose.”

“What do you want, stain on the honour of my House?” Kreacher asked Harry’s feet.

“I’m good,” said Harry, and added belatedly, “Thanks?”

Kreacher sniffed and disappeared. Draco twitched the chair into a better alignment, then went to work on the lacings of his shirt. Harry didn’t think it was the same shirt Draco had worn on the first day – for one thing, it was blue – but it was of the same Regency style cut down to beach-bum casual.

It didn’t dawn on Harry what Draco was doing until Draco pulled the shirt over his head. “Hey, what!” Harry protested. “You can’t do that!”

“Do what?” Draco sounded genuinely puzzled as he wadded up his shirt into a pillow. He stretched out on the deck chair and tucked his arms behind his head. Harry was horror-struck, unable to tear his eyes away from the smooth shift of muscles beneath marble-white skin.

“Be – naked like that,” spluttered Harry. “Not around me.”

“Jealous, are you?” Draco smirked and ran a hand down his pecs.

“Hardly.” Harry snorted again and decided to refrain from doing so in future; it stung his throat.

“Then what’s the problem?”

“It’s ... indecent.” Aware of the lameness of his complaint, Harry huffed a sigh and returned to what he’d been doing. Unfortunately, Draco had made him lose count, and he hadn’t thought to make a note of the measurements he’d already done.

“No, seriously, I can’t contain myself any longer. Just what are you doing?”

“Measuring the size of the house, all right?” grunted Harry.

“Surely there are easier ways to do it than that,” said Draco. “Snape. Kreacher. A measuring tape.”

“No measuring tapes,” said Harry. “And no way am I asking those two for anything.”

“Why do you hate Snape so much?” asked Draco. “I know we have a long-standing history and you’re a total prat, which makes my disparagement of you and everything about you easy to understand, but Snape?”

“He started it,” said Harry. “First day of school, I don’t know him from Adam, and he starts ragging on me like I’d killed his pet toad. Turns out my dad bullied him in school and somehow that’s my fault.”

“You could try being the bigger man,” said Draco. “Live and let live, let bygones be bygones and all that.”

“A philosophy to live by,” agreed Harry. “Except not for you, of course.”

Draco shrugged. “What can I say? You’ll be a prat until the end of time, and short of Obliviating me I’ll never forget it.”

“There’s that winning charm again.” Harry shut his eyes and counted to ten. Then twenty. He had stuff to do, most of which included avoiding everyone else in the house. He needed to stop Draco getting to him. That’s what Hermione had said, but unfortunately she had no firmer advice than that; Draco still got to her, after all.

“Ah, here’s Kreacher with the lemonade.” This was said in tones of heartfelt satisfaction. Harry didn’t turn around, merely listened to the chink and tinkle of refreshments being served as he slowly added twenty centimetres to twenty centimetres. “Sure you don’t want some?”

“No thanks,” said Harry. “Kreacher’d probably spit in it.”

“Kreacher would.”

“Your loss,” said Draco.

For the next five minutes all Harry could hear was Draco slurping at his drink, loudly and undoubtedly by design. Harry’d nearly got to the edge of the house when Draco spoke again.

“Indulge me: what is the purpose of you scrabbling around in the dirt like a dog? Not that I don’t think it’s a very fitting place for you.”

“You know what? Shut up!” Harry shouted. “As a matter of fact, I was measuring the house to figure out where to create nodes for the spell I asked Hermione to design. If Snape casts it, it’ll put a matrix bubble of Cooling Charms over the house. It would mean Snape wouldn’t have to keep casting charms to keep the two of you from dying of heatstroke. But I don’t think I’ll be bothered now!”

He stared at Draco, who for a full second looked something like discomposed. Then his customary expression shuttered his features once more.

“Temper, temper,” he said. “We don’t need that anyway. Kreacher will steal us some more fans, won’t you, Kreacher?”

“Kreacher would be glad to be of service to the delightful master!”

“There, see?” Draco smirked at Harry and took a long sip of his lemonade. There was a lemon slice and an umbrella in it.

Harry felt rage curdle his blood. In a few short strides he’d crossed the parched lawn and grabbed up the lemonade pitcher, which he dumped over Draco’s head before Draco – or, more to the point, Kreacher – could do a thing about it.

Draco spluttered and wiped his stringy hair out of his eyes. He looked like a drowned kitten, with his sopping locks and lemonade dribbling down his pale chest. Harry felt a vicious satisfaction.

“I hope you fry to a crisp, you inbred loser,” he said.

“I have sunscreen, you know!” Draco shrieked after him. Harry closed his ears. He passed the kitchen table, where Hermione’s carefully drawn plans were spread across several dozen sheaves of parchment. In an angry gesture, Harry crumpled them up and threw them at the bin with unwarranted force.

He felt all the impotence of being sixteen and unable to legally drive or use magic. The heat stopped him from walking far in any direction. There was nowhere for him to go – except...

Harry smiled – though it was difficult when his face was cast so heavily into a frown – and headed for the basement.

+++

Harry passed a contented few hours in Hogwarts’ library. The portal was simplicity itself to open: all Harry needed to do was to touch the handle and the concrete blocks were replaced by an ornate oak door, which obligingly swung open to let him pass.

Never had Harry taken a stroll around the library with more pleasure. In the past it had been the scene of frantic research or frantic swotting. He’d never before noticed the many squashy armchairs that were dotted around the stacks.

He had planned to be happy in reading over one of his textbooks, but a quick survey revealed that there was no need. He found shelves full of remarkable books of the sort that often caught his eye in Flourish and Blotts. He chose one entitled ‘From Bedknobs to Broomsticks: A Short History of Magical Flight’ and settled in for the afternoon.

He emerged, blinking, six hours later. The library was dim and enchantingly cool, and the changeover was strong enough for Harry to feel like an animal coming out of hibernation. He could hear voices from outside. They didn’t sound agitated, but Harry decided to investigate anyway.

The other inhabitants of the house, minus Kreacher, were arrayed in the back yard in what looked like battle formation. Each of the Dursleys stooped over a small object, while Snape was firing incantations at a football boot and Draco was tensed as if for flight.

“Look who decided to join us,” crowed Draco, glancing up as Harry tripped over the stoop.

Snape looked up also, but without halting his spell-casting. He jerked his head in the direction of a kettle on the ground beside Dudley. Taking the hint, Harry crouched down beside it.

He looked down the row and saw Dudley holding a dustpan for dear life; Aunt Petunia with her hands around a toasted sandwich maker; and Uncle Vernon wheezing over a Folio collection of Shakespeare that, to the best of Harry’s knowledge, had never before been touched.

“What are you doing?” asked Harry, just as Snape finished his incantation with a flourish.

A ribbon of light exploded from the football boot at his feet, arrowing up into the air. Draco raced around to the front of the house as the ribbon floated down and across the roof, where it lay winking in the sunlight. Harry grabbed the kettle as it began to dance in place, fighting the vibrations that clattered his teeth in his skull. Beside him, Dudley threw himself bodily on the dustpan to hold it still.

“Got it!” Draco’s voice echoed. At once, Harry’s kettle stopped shaking. Snape picked up the boot and disappeared around the front of the house. Harry jumped up to follow.

By the time he reached the front lawn, Snape was kneeling with the boot while Draco cupped the end of the ribbon of light in both hands. He seemed to be trying to tug it down to the ground. Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Irving from Number Eight, out for a walk with their five corgis, watched with unqualified amazement.

“Hi,” called Harry. “We’re having some problems with the, um, electricity. Got some men in to help with the wiring.”

Mr Irving nodded slightly. Mrs Irving gathered up the dog leads and hustled him away, muttering something very audible about ‘there goes the neighbourhood’.

Snape finally managed to attach the ribbon to the boot, at which point it ballooned out in a blaze of light, then faded to nothing.

“One down, four to go,” said Draco. Snape merely grunted.

“Are you –” Harry looked at the football boot suspiciously. Hermione had suggested using objects that usually stayed inside the house as keystones for the nodes. “This is the spell I was trying to set up earlier!”

“No,” said Snape, “it’s the plan you tried to throw in the bin. Very gracious of you, I must say, trying to deprive everyone else of it like that.”

“But I didn’t!” exclaimed Harry. “He –” Harry gesticulated impotently at Draco, who smirked.

“I, for one, cannot wait to live in a proper, magically-cooled house,” he said. “Those pitiful fan things just don’t cut it.”

“And I’m very grateful to you for bringing it to my attention,” said Snape. “Now can we get on?”

“Certainly, Professor.” Still smirking, Draco brushed past Harry on his way to the back yard.

Harry had time to appreciate the fact that, added to his other crimes, Draco was now sporting the beginnings of a fine, even, honey-coloured tan. Not even the tip of his nose was remotely pink. Harry’s hand went unconsciously to his own nose. In the first week of summer Harry, in his innocence, had taken off his shirt when sweat dyed it from grey to black. He’d been in agony for days afterwards. Even now, his nose was still peeling a little. The skin there was far darker than everywhere else, with a dozen blotchy freckles.

“Try lemon juice,” advised Snape.

“What?” Harry snatched his hand away.

“For those unslightly blemishes,” said Snape.

Harry scowled. “What would you have done if I wasn’t there to stabilise the last keystone?”

“We would have managed,” said Snape airily. “If you want to go and lose yourself again I’m sure I won’t object.”

“I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction,” snarled Harry, leaning in. He realised he was now as tall as Snape, who had to lean back instead of looming over him.

“How very like your dear father you are,” said Snape. “He, too, could only grant a favour grudgingly, and only if he thought it wasn’t really wanted.”

“Maybe if you were more like my dad,” said Harry, struck with sudden inspiration, “my mum would have taken more notice of you.”

Snape’s eyes narrowed, but not before Harry saw a flash of fear in them. “Your mind wanders alarmingly, boy. Perhaps you need a cooling compress.”

“Whatever,” said Harry. He felt a rare sense of satisfaction: something told him he’d won that round.

It took them the better part of the evening to complete the spell. The few Muggles abroad in the swelter of sunset seemed to buy Harry’s explanations, but he was still worried. On the other hand, if the Ministry was going to berate anyone for performing magic in front of Muggles it would be Snape, not him.

Sweat was running in rivulets down Snape’s face by the end. He’d even gone so far as to take off his outer robe, revealing a loose black shirt and breeches much like Draco’s. Harry wondered if they were a half-way house to underwear. Certainly the Weasleys had never worn anything like them – that Harry knew of – but then again, the Weasleys might not have afforded such fripperies.

“I think the spell will hold,” panted Snape. “Quick, take the keystones back inside.”

The Dursleys scurried to do his bidding. There came a concerted ‘ah-h’ sound as they entered the house. Dudley poked his head out the front door. “It’s like Antarctica in here,” he said gleefully.

“That ... was difficult.” Snape took a few deep breaths. “I can feel a force fighting it. This is no ... natural weather.”

“It’s not,” said Harry. Draco and Snape turned to face him. “At least, I don’t think so, and neither does Hermione. We reckon Voldemort’s behind it.” He noted the twin flinches at the mention of the name.

“The ... Dark Lord,” said Snape, carefully, “is no lover of hot weather.”

“That wouldn’t be a problem unless he was in Surrey,” said Harry. “Scrimgeour’s not denying that Voldemort’s back, but he’s got enough on his plate, I reckon, without acknowledging that Voldemort’s wreaking havoc all over the Muggle world too.”

“The wizards would surely have noticed –” objected Draco. Harry shook his head.

“Hermione’s looked into that,” he said, “of course. The wizarding villages, Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, most individual wizards’ houses – they all have enchantments and protective spells built into their walls. Given that we can move around without actually going outside at all, I think it’s safe to say few, if any, wizards have noticed the changes. And how many wizards read Muggle newspapers?”

“My father always used to say they’d rot my brain,” said Draco.

“Little did he know it was already too late.” Harry rolled his eyes and turned slightly away from Draco. Snape was a spiteful individual and there was no love lost between them, but at least he was an adult. “I think it’s part of Voldemort’s plan to take over England – get rid of as many Muggles as he can, first. Is it?”

“The Dark Lord has many plans,” said Snape in lofty tones. “I am not privy to all of them.”

“You don’t know, in other words,” said Harry. “Or he didn’t trust you enough to tell you, which makes a lot of sense.”

“Watch your tongue,” said Snape.

“What, are you insulted by the idea that someone might not trust a double-dealer?” taunted Harry. “Or are you still trying to buy your way back in?” He thrust his fist in Snape’s face. “I’m here, defenceless, unarmed. Take me to your master. Win back his loyalty. No one will stop you.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Draco. Snape and Harry whirled around. Draco’s face looked like he’d both smelled and eaten something impossibly sour. His hands were balled into his pockets like a naughty child. “Uh, Professor Snape, if you’re in any way tempted by Potter’s offer, it’s my duty to inform you, uh, that I’d have to stop you –”

“Be silent, both of you!” thundered Snape. He massaged his temples. “Thank god I never had children.”

Harry bit back a grin and accidentally caught Draco ducking his head to hide a smile. He was shocked by the notion that they both might have been thinking the exact same thing.

After a minute, Snape’s hands slackened. “If your ... notions are correct,” he said stiffly, “why haven’t you informed the Ministry? Someone has to be casting these spells, someone they could arrest.”

“Of course! Great idea. Because the Ministry’s always been such a fan of mine, and never tried to have me committed for insanity or anything.”

“Ah yes.” Snape’s fingers ground into his head once more. “And the Muggles themselves? What do they have to say about this? It’s been a long time since I had reason to keep up with their current affairs. Is Fidel Castro still in power?”

“Yeah, I think so,” said Harry. “But even in his hey-day I don’t think he had control of the weather. You must be thinking of the X-Men.”

“Then how are they explaining this – excessive heat?”

“And earthquakes, freezing mist, floods and tornadoes?” Harry shrugged. “Global warming.”

He was met with two blank expressions. His heart sank at the thought of explaining the greenhouse effect and hydroflurocarbons – topics he barely understood himself – to people who’d never used either aerosols or carbon-based fuels.

“I think I’ll have to pass you on to Dudley, for that one,” he said weakly.

+++

Snape was still deep in conversation with Dudley long after Draco had given it up, satisfied to learn that Muggles had put a hole in the sky, and not much beyond the fact. It was, after all, of a piece with everything he’d been brought up to believe about Muggles.

His skin was beginning to tingle, so he sent Kreacher off to procure some after-sun lotion for him. It was probably the last few hours setting up the spell that had done the mischief, when he’d been too busy to remember to top up his sunscreen. Otherwise, he felt complacent about the outcome of his day’s sunbathing. It would have taken a full month to get such sun exposure in Malfoy Manor, not to mention that his father would be forever calling him away from the patio to discuss his grades or his duties as a Malfoy or, latterly, his devotion to the Dark Lord.

Draco felt a little guilty about enjoying himself in this misbegotten hellhole. He was with Muggles and Potter - theoretically, he hardly knew which was worse.

In practice, the Dursleys were tolerable enough. The uncle was at work all day, the aunt sequestered in the living room, and Lee was certainly an acceptable companion. He had more wit than Goyle and Crabbe put together, which made sense, because he probably weighed the same as the two of them. Television was an unlooked-for boon. Snape was usually off on errands through the L-space portal, and as for Potter...

Draco thought about Harry as he sat in the now habitable parlour and smoothed lotion into his stinging legs.

Harry was quieter than Draco remembered, if still as liable to go off at odd moments. During the grey hours of that July morning, when Draco had awoken to the shock of his mother packing his trunk by herself, he’d picked up something of the history of the underground group with which he was now, apparently, affiliated. Draco had much rather simply skip town for a few years and not be affiliated with anybody, but as yet the Order of the Phoenix hadn’t asked him to kill someone, and that was a definite plus in their favour.

In between Draco’s swearing of vows and checking that he’d brought his favourite pair of socks, Snape mentioned something about Sirius Black’s death. Draco learned enough concerning Black to realise he was a sort of criminal and also related to Harry Potter, which was exceedingly apt.

Harry didn’t seem the sort to throw himself on a long couch and weep over the death of a relative, even such a long-lost one as Black, despite it being really the only appropriate course of action. But if Draco had to put a name to Harry’s behaviour of late – taking into account his long silences, his more than usually gloomy expression, and the way his angry outbursts seemed to end on a half-sob – he would have called it grief. Of a sort. Harry was evidently too manly and Gryffindorish to own up to his true feelings on the matter.

Draco wiggled his toes in his dusty flip-flops. The lotion was doing its job. He lay back on the stiff, brocaded sofa and wondered if one of the ugly cabinets held another TV.

What sounded like an elephant in labour reverberated through the hall. It could only be – “Potter,” groaned Draco. He’d wanted a moment’s peace and quiet, so of course Harry had been divinely ordained to annoy him.

“Did somebody say my –” Harry stopped in the doorway, mouth hanging open. It went well with his general appearance: that of a village idiot. “What are you doing here? In Aunt Petunia’s good room?”

“I could ask you the same question.” Draco smirked. He knew he had a tendency to smirk and talk too much when he was nervous or troubled, and he also knew he didn’t have a Crabbe or a Goyle to back him up here. Still, Harry invited the mocking. Draco’s fingers itched to pick up one of the almost spherical cushions and lob it at Harry’s head.

Harry bit his lips as if chewing down a retort. He’d clearly been doing that a lot of late: his mouth was red and chapped. “What did you mean by what you said before?”

Aware of how it would annoy Harry, Draco squished himself down into the sofa before replying. “You’re going to have to narrow that down a bit. I say a lot of things.”

“I’d noticed.” Harry toed off his flip-flops and walked into the room barefoot. Given how little difference in cleanliness there was between feet and shoes in this heat, Draco took the act for merely symbolic. In keeping with pointed gestures, he propped both his feet up on the fussy coffee table. Harry frowned, but went on, “About having to stop Snape, if he tried to hand me over to Voldemort.”

Draco shivered reflexively at the name. He’d accuse Harry of bravado if he hadn’t known Harry had seen the man in the flesh, many times more than Draco had. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s just a little promise I made to my mother – nothing that concerns you.”

“It does concern me,” persisted Harry, “if you’re making promises about my safety.”

“It wasn’t about your safety, it was about mine,” snapped Draco. “It had everything to do with family loyalty – something you’ll never understand.”

Draco knew his slings and spurs nettled Harry, offended his pride and dignity, but never before had he felt that he’d actually wounded Harry by anything he said. The feeling was not as pleasant as he’d imagined.

“Right, well.” Harry seemed at a loss. “Dinner in five minutes.”

“Have Snape and Lee concluded their discussion?” Draco made a derisive noise. “Holes in the sky! Honestly, Muggles will bend over backwards to be stupider than they are to begin with.”

“Did you ever stop to think that they have to try and explain something they’re not allowed to understand?” spat Harry. “They don’t know magic exists outside of films and fairy-tales. It’s logical enough that changes in gas and atmospheres and things would cause funny weather, especially when you don’t have any other reasons!”

“So cry me a river.” Draco picked up a hideous crystal ornament and used it to scratch his leg.

“You’re insufferable, you know that?”

“I can but try.” Draco slit his eyes and smiled lazily at his foe. Harry looked ready to beat him into a pulp. “I haven’t got all day. Either hit me or make some noble speech about how I’m not worth it.”

“You’re not,” said Harry tightly. “You’re not worth a damn thing.”

He turned on his heel and slammed out of the room. Draco shrugged and lounged back.

For some reason, that had stung just a bit more than it should. It was probably the sunburn.

part iii
 
 
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