Harry Potter sighed and leaned against the freshly painted fence that surrounded the Dursleys' front yard. He tilted back precariously, relishing the squeaking of the wood and wondered how Aunt Petunia would react if the fence broke. The bed of flowers she kept meticulously clean would be in direct line of the disaster and the paint would leave white stains on the mud. For a while he entertained the notion of going through with the act, then his senses returned. Shaking his head, he pulled himself upright and cursed.
His shirt - oversized and baggy like all the others - had stuck to the wet paint and dried while he stood contemplating the repercussions of uprooting the fence. As he struggled to prize the shirt away from the offending wood, a shrill voice demanded his presence in the house. Now.
He groaned and looked at the ruined shirt. It was one of his only clothes and his relatives liked to rub that in his face every chance they got. Glancing at the fence, he wondered if he should repaint it now or answer his aunt. Finally making a decision, he trudged back into the house, the white paint on his back dully reflecting the sun's last rays.
The last remaining Potter had seen many things. Some so strange that many a wizard lived a full life without witnessing what he had. As such, it was very hard to catch him unexpected. However, what Harry Potter had never expected to see was Draco Malfoy and Dumbledore crowded in the hall of Number 4, Privet Drive, with Petunia Dursley and her son.
'Good afternoon, my boy, or perhaps I should say, good evening. The sun is about to set, after all.'
Malfoy made a disgusted sound in his throat at the cheery tones. Harry was still staring speechlessly at the little group. Dumbledore looked as relaxed as ever, only serving to irritate Petunia despite her fear. Malfoy was the complete opposite, standing stiffly, as if ready to bolt at any moment. This was the first time Harry had seen Malfoy anything less than completely put together. The notion that Harry's house and the presence of his relatives made him so was quite satisfying. Catching his gaze on him, Malfoy looked up and sneered.
'What's the matter, Potter? Kneazle got your tongue?'
Ignoring the blond wizard, Harry turned to Dumbledore. 'What are you doing here Professor?' he asked, not bothering with pleasantries. Dumbledore's eyes twinkled.
'Why, Harry, may I not drop by a student's house as a friendly visit?'
'You wouldn't drop by this house if you hadn't anything important to tell me. Besides, why did you bring Malfoy with you?' He carefully avoided saying my house in front of his aunt and cousin. Mercifully, their fear from all things magic kept them abnormally quiet as they watched the interaction.
'You really are too perceptive, Harry,' said Dumbledore sighing amusedly. Then his face grew solemn and he continued, 'We are, as you know, in the midst of a war, where safety is never guaranteed. It is especially worrying for the parents, and for the past few weeks, I have constantly been reassuring panicked mothers and fathers about the safety of their children at Hogwarts. However, for some people the situation is quite different. You see, my boy, their very homes lack the safety of the wards that, say, guard your home.'
Harry was growing increasingly suspicious of this conversation. He might not be terribly intelligent like Hermione, but he was a bright child. He did not like where this was going one bit. Especially since Malfoy had yet to say what his part was in the whole affair.
Dumbledore was still talking. 'For some parents staying at home becomes a matter of life and death. Just yesterday, I was in my office enjoying a particularly tasty treacle tart when Mrs. Malfoy paid me a visit. She insisted that the Manor was no place for Mr. Malfoy to stay now, considering its…. reputation.'
'You forgot to mention the people that live in it,' Harry muttered under his breath.
He said it quietly, yet Malfoy heard. His face twisted in anger but he clenched his fists and did not speak.
Harry stood in shock until Dumbledore's voice penetrated through his confusion.
'She demanded he stay the safest place, a shelter where Voldemort had no hope of finding him. The only place safer than Hogwarts and perhaps Gringotts is here, so I deduced…'
At once, it all clicked together and Harry interrupted. 'No, no, no.' He emphasized it by shaking his head vigorously, as Dumbledore tried to convince him.
My boy, listen to me….'
'No, no, I will not have Malfoy stay with me! It's bad enough I'm stuck here all summer by myself and now you dump this on me? No thanks!'
The Dursleys were forgotten as a back and forth ensued between the wizened old man and the young boy with blazing green eyes.
Malfoy, standing a little apart, watching the argument, realized for the first time that he had never noticed how the Boy-Who-Lived actually looked.
Now, he took in his defensive stance, something that was hardly intimidating due his overall scrawniness. Anyone who saw his build would comment on how weak he seemed, but if they cared to raise their gaze a little higher, they would be pinned by his green-eyed stare.
So many emotions burned within: passion, anger, stubbornness, and a fair amount of hatred. He wondered how someone could feel so much for one person, someone they didn't even like. If that was how he reacted to Malfoy's presence, how would he feel about the wizard who had murdered his parents? Suddenly, Malfoy wasn't so sure the Dark Lord would win, after all.
And Merlin knew he would take it to the grave with him, but at that moment, Harry Potter actually scared him.
He focused back on the argument that seemed to have abated somewhat. Potter still seemed defiant but it was resigned and he finally opted for silence as Dumbledore explained his reasons.
'The blood wards around this house are extremely sufficient to protect you both for the duration of the summer. The only thing I ask of Mr. Malfoy and yourself is that you do not venture outside of the house. It is extremely important that Voldemort does not catch wind of your location. Unfortunately, that means you may not communicate with your friends through any way that can be tracked.'
At Harry's furious expression, he sighed.
'Believe me, Harry, when I say it is not my pleasure to keep you from your friends. I understand how important they are to you, but there are lives at stake here. If it is discovered that you and Mr. Malfoy are here… let's just say that the consequences will be dire.'
Harry turned to Malfoy and glared. 'Do you mind?'
'Oh, I don't mind at all, Potter. Please continue.'
'Mr. Malfoy, perhaps you could stand to the side for a moment?' asked Dumbledore.
Looking utterly displeased, he shuffled off to lean against the cupboard where, unbeknownst to him, Harry had spent much of his childhood.
Before Harry could speak, Dumbledore said, 'I came to you in hopes that you would be the bigger man in this situation and simply agree to disagree, Harry. I expect you will not disappoint.'
Harry frowned. All his life, he had been expected to be the bigger man, whether it was ignoring Dudley's taunting or finishing his chores without complaining. Not to mention, he knew full well his last four years at Hogwarts had required wisdom and courage beyond his years. Wasn't that enough?
'But it's Malfoy,' he stressed. He knew it was a weak argument and cringed when it came out whinier than he intended, but he ploughed on. 'If I ever needed anything, much less a place to stay for the whole summer, he would never agree to help. Neither would his parents. He's always hated me, so why should I do anything for him? I have better things to be doing than babysitting the stupid prat, you know. Like homework.'
Okay, so he was laying it on a bit thick, but he was desperate to get the Slytherin out of his hair.
Dumbledore laughed - he knew Harry could care less about homework - and laid a wrinkled hand on his shoulder. 'Harry, what makes you any different from Tom?'
Harry glanced at his Professor quizzically before replying. 'My ability to…love?' It came out more as a question.
'Yes, Harry. Love, but also forgiveness.
Tell me, have you ever asked yourself why people are willing to sacrifice themselves for you? It is so you can rid the world of Voldemort, of course, but there is more to it than that. People turn to the Light because we represent the kind of world they want to live in: free of the hatred that drives wizard-kind apart. So, my boy, if you truly believe in our cause, then prove your loyalty; put your differences with Mr. Malfoy aside and give help to someone in need. You are no longer a child, Harry, and a war is no time to pursue schoolyard rivalries. Perhaps…perhaps it is time you reflect upon what is truly important.'
Harry, red-faced from this mild version of a telling off, peered up at Dumbledore, and when he didn't continue, asked cautiously, 'Important in what, Professor?'
'Everything, Harry. In life, in war, but especially in a person. Very well, are we in an agreement then?' he asked, releasing the boy's shoulder and clapping his hands together.
'Yes,' mumbled Harry, blinking at the sudden change of topic. 'I don't like it and it's going to be a horrible summer, but maybe…maybe the ferret will spill some blackmail-worthy information. And he'll owe me forever. Oh, this is brilliant!'
By the end of the sentence, Harry was grinning, and Dumbledore thought he could see why the Sorting Hat had almost placed Harry Potter in Slytherin.
Shaking his head fondly, the old man beckoned a sulky blond forward and motioned for him to unload his pockets. He did so, and a wave of Dumbledore's wand reverted the minuscule packages into Malfoy's luggage. As the last trunk resized, it seemed to sink in and Malfoy's face changed.
'Wait, so I'm staying?' he asked, an expression of stark relief betraying his doubts at being accepted in his nemesis's house evident before he wiped away the emotion. However, his shoulders that were previously tense and upright, relaxed visibly.
'I believe you are, Mr. Malfoy and I would like a word, if I may?'
This time Harry shifted away from the two…only to bump into his aunt and cousin. In the crowded hallway, Aunt Petunia's disbelieving whisper travelled quickly and Harry winced.
'That boy is not staying in my house! What will the neighbors say? Isn't one of you freaks enough? Oh my, what will Vernon say?'
'I'd like to believe that he will not object. It is very kind of you to support Harry through his hardships and you will not mind him having a friend over, surely.'
Harry snorted. Support him through hardships? The man must be really off his rocker. And calling Malfoy a 'friend' was just stretching it. As Petunia made to protest, Dumbledore leveled her with a stare and uttered one last thing.
'Remember my last, Petunia.'
It sounded so ominous that his aunt paled. She pursed her lips and said nothing more, turning and dragging a frightened Dudley into the kitchen.
'My last? What does that mean, Professor?' Harry asked curiously. How had Petunia understood Dumbledore when he hadn't? Did his aunt know more about his world than she let on?
The frustrating wizard just winked at him and headed towards the door. 'Well, if we are finished here, I will take my leave. Draco, I expect you will not abuse Harry's hospitality. Harry, my boy, please consider what I've said. And lastly, goodnight to you both!'
With a flourish of his brightly colored robes and the twinkle of an eye, he was gone, leaving the two alone.
Harry, busy thinking about his talk with Dumbledore, momentarily forgot about the annoying presence in his house. As he reached the stairs, he heard a throat being cleared.
'Nice shirt, Scarhead. Tell me do you try to look homeless or does it come naturally?'
Harry groaned. This was going to be a long, long holiday.