NOTE: A friendly reminder—this was originally written and posted in early 2002 through the beginning of 2004. Nothing that has been learned about the Potterverse after that time, from interviews, subsequent books, etc., has been retconned in the fic. (In other words, I know the name of Neville's mother and that Ginny is short for Ginevra. I just don't think there's a point to pretending that I knew these things before the world at large found out about them.) So just sit back and relax, get in a time machine to 2002, and don't worry about things we learned after Goblet of Fire that are different from what you're reading here. I know all about them, but I don't believe in retconning, period, so I'm not "fixing" any of those things. It is what it is—an artifact of a certain time in the fandom. Enjoy. –BLP
Harry Potter and the Triangle Prophecy
In all traditions, the roof represents the essential
element of shelter, and once the frame of a roof
exists the shape of a building comes clear...for
centuries builders have fastened small trees or
evergreen boughs or flowers...to the ridges of
newly framed roofs...Having taken wood from
the tree, builders bring the tree back to the wood.
The tree becomes the house, and in ceremony,
the house becomes the tree.
~ Tracy Kidder, House
Time had lost all meaning for Harry Potter. He was about to live through what would undoubtedly be the longest month of his life. In one month he would be seventeen. It might as well be one century away, he thought. Normally, he spent the summer marking off days on a homemade calendar counting down to the first of September, when he would be able to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but now he had a nearer goal, which, in spite of its nearness, seemed far more elusive than his return to school usually did.
Though non-magical teenagers might normally count down to their seventeenth birthdays because it would mean the opportunity to finally have a driver's license, Harry was counting down to this day because he would be of age in the wizarding world. He would no longer have to worry about avoiding doing magic outside of school. He could begin learning to Apparate. He could vote for the Minister of Magic, if a vote was held. (There hadn't been a vote in the last sixteen years, as far as he knew. Harry almost wished there would at least be a vote of no-confidence, but he wasn't sure what the point would be, as the only person people wanted to be Minister, other than Fudge, was Albus Dumbledore, who preferred to be the headmaster of Hogwarts.) Right before his birthday he would leave the Dursleys forever and go to live with his godfather, Sirius Black, in Scotland. He was definitely looking forward to that, but it was the birthday he was really anticipating.
Naturally, having all of these things to look forward to meant that each twenty-four-hour day felt more like twenty-four years. In the short time he'd been home he thought he would go mad from the waiting. In addition to the usual daily verbal abuse he had to tolerate from his aunt and uncle (and their annoying little Yorkshire terrier, Dunkirk, who hated Harry with a passion) was the fact that they had decided to use the last month of his tenure with them to squeeze as much free labor out of him as possible. It had begun on his third morning back from school.
Harry had risen early as usual to go running, dashing out of the house just clear of the snapping jaws of the highly-annoyed terrier. While he made a circuit around the park, he noticed with interest that a large marquee was erected in the middle of the green, near the artificial lake created with funds raised by the Royal Gardening Society of Little Whinging, of which his aunt was recording secretary. (She'd been angling for president for years, with no luck, as Agnes Bringhurst kept successfully campaigning against her.) The marquee was enormous and white, with mesh "windows" giving one the impression that you could put your hands through the openings. When Harry peered through one, he saw two men in jumpsuits setting up white folding chairs in neat rows with an aisle down the center. The chairs faced a dais with a handful of chairs facing the audience. The dais was skirted in white, so the supports weren't visible.
Must be a wedding, he decided. It was the end of June, after all. He gazed at the blue cloudless sky. The wedding party was overcompensating for the weather; if they had thought they'd guarantee clear skies by ordering a marquee, it seemed to have worked. (His aunt and uncle were adamant that the word "magic" not being uttered in their house but were convinced that carrying an umbrella was a fool-proof charm against rain. Harry knew they were hardly alone in this common Muggle superstition, yet people carried umbrellas in Britain almost all the time and it rained quite a lot.)
Harry turned away from the marquee and immediately collided with a familiar person who was panting heavily. He hadn't realized this person had also walked up to the tent and peered in the mesh window. Harry frowned. He had last seen him on the platform at King's Cross, and had not been looking forward to seeing him again so soon.
"How considerate—" wheeze! "—of you to let me know—" gasp! "—you were going running, Potter—" gulp! "—and to let me hare after you—" pant! "—for a mile while you went on, oblivious—"
Harry frowned. "I didn't know you were behind me, Malfoy, else I'd have stopped." He wouldn't have wanted to stop, but he knew it would be good form to stop. "You could have said something."
Draco Malfoy collapsed on the ground beside the tent. "No. I. Couldn't." He breathed heavily for another minute before starting to get his breath back. "When did you become so damn fast?" he said in a rush. "Have you been holding back when we were running round the Quidditch pitch every morning?"
Harry shrugged, trying not to grin smugly. "I might have been without knowing it. Where've you been for the last two days? It wasn't like I expected you. I just started running." He glanced around at the green of the park. "It's nice to be back." He remembered his fleeting moments of missing Surrey in his other life. It felt like he'd been gone for a thousand years.
Malfoy frowned. "I took a break for a couple of days, but this morning, I had to get out. I can't believe I'm stuck in the house with my old nanny again. All summer. And stuck in this hell known as Surrey. Gah. It's nice to be back? Are you mental?"
Now Harry grinned. "Chin up, Malfoy. Stiff upper lip and all that. After all, you live with all of those lovely kitties," he taunted, knowing how Malfoy detested—indeed, feared—cats of all kinds.
Malfoy lunged for him and Harry hopped nimbly out of the way, starting to jog in place. "Come on. We can run back together, if you like. I can drop in and say hello to Mrs. Figg. She's not all that bad. Even when she snaps, she's not as bad as my aunt. She's just a bit like—"
"—Mad Eye Moody. Yeah, I know. But younger and female. As if that's an improvement."
Harry considered. "She doesn't have a magical eye. That's something. You'd never have any privacy if she did."
Malfoy shuddered. "Okay, now I'm going to have to get that image out of my mind..."
Harry started running back toward Privet Drive, laughing, but tempering his pace until the other boy had caught up. As they jogged, Harry said, "So. I reckon we'd better go back to first names. For the summer."
He received a nod in return, as Draco was turning quite red and dripping with sweat. When they reached Mrs. Figg's house they both collapsed on the lawn and did warm-down exercises before going round the back to enter through the kitchen door. Mrs. Figg had gone out early, leaving a note, so Harry bade Draco Malfoy farewell and returned to the Dursleys' to shower and eat breakfast.
When he entered the kitchen, his aunt was dishing up kippers for his uncle. The dog was sitting in Dudley's old spot at the table, waiting for his own kippers with ears standing at attention and his front paws on the edge of the table. It would have been cute if it hadn't been Dunkirk, the hound from hell. Harry went to the fridge for orange juice, bumping his head painfully on the top of the opening when his aunt screeched at him.
"You! You got a call from that Dick. Wants you to work for him again."
Harry had been expecting Dick Abernathy to call, who was really Aberforth Dumbledore, his headmaster's brother. Abernathy Landscaping was a thriving business that also employed the wizard Sam Bell, who had served ten years in Azkaban for casting a spell causing his wife's death. Sam was Katie Bell's dad; Harry had played on the Gryffindor Quidditch team with Katie for six years, but now she was out of school. He liked Sam and looked forward to seeing him again.
Vernon Dursley put down his newspaper and peered at Harry with narrowed eyes. "No, you don't. You're not spending your last month here working for someone else, making money hand over fist. You're going to make up for all those years of free room and board, you are. You will make yourself useful. Starting tomorrow, when you go for that morning run of yours, you're going to take Dunkirk with you. He needs more exercise. You'll walk him in the evening as well. And you're going to replace the roof. Needs it badly. Last time it rained, it leaked over our bed, and in our en suite, and over Dudley's desk and in the guest room as well. Your room seems to be the only one without a leak. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Harry dropped his jaw. "I spent most of last summer at Mrs. Figg's, so I haven't set foot in this house for almost a year. What would I know about leaks in the roof?"
Vernon made a harumphing sort of noise. "I wouldn't put it past you..."
"And," Harry went on, "I have no intention of fixing your roof. I already did your garden landscaping for practically nothing."
"Nothing! Five pounds a day that cost us!" his aunt screeched, as if this represented a fortune. Harry groaned.
"You're not serious? You actually expect me to fix the roof?" He stared back and forth between their two equally-repugnant faces. He folded his arms and held his ground. "You can't make me."
Vernon folded his paper and raised his eyebrows at his wife. "You hear that, Petunia? From the ingrate who's lived here for sixteen years—"
"Fifteen-and-a-half," Harry corrected him.
"—eating our food and wearing the clothes our money bought him—"
"—clothes that were Dud—er, someone else's first—"
"—and this is the way he responds when we ask him to do us a tiny favor..."
"Tiny!" Harry exploded. "You want me to fix the bloody roof!"
"Not just fix—replace. Completely. It's been ages. No good in repairing something that old. Needs an entirely new covering."
Harry's jaw dropped. "You must be mad. I am not replacing the roof. I am working for Dick starting tomorrow, and that's final."
"Final, he says," Vernon said in a musing voice, standing to leave. "Final. Do you hear that, Petunia?" His voice had become soft and sing-song. She nodded, her mouth very thin. "Final. Well," he went on, his voice louder and more menacing. "We'll just see about that."
And with a knowing and triumphant look, he stalked out of the kitchen to go to work at the Grunnings Drill factory. Harry frowned after him. Brilliant. A row with my uncle at the beginning of the summer. Just what I need.
But Harry had a queasy feeling about this. What, exactly, did Vernon Dursley mean by We'll just see about that?
Harry talked with Aberforth on the phone after eating lunch; the next morning he was to be at Mrs. Figg's at eight o'clock sharp for Sam to drive him and Draco to the estate where they'd planted trees the previous summer. They were doing more elaborate landscaping on the grounds, building a garden folly to resemble a Greek temple and putting in shrubbery which was to be carefully sculpted. Harry was looking forward to the job. He spent the day alternately sunning himself in the garden and, when he grew bored, pulling weeds or pruning roses. He also made a mental note that the bench needed a coat of paint, and remembered that in the fuss over the roof he hadn't had a chance to register his displeasure with the order to take Dunkirk on walks. As if that dog will do anything I want him to! He wondered whether the real goal all along had been to turn him into Dunkirk's walker, and the roof was a diversion.
When he went indoors to make a sandwich for lunch, he heard voices coming from the upstairs. One was his Aunt Petunia, but he wasn't certain about the other, as it was muffled. He ventured into the front hall, unsure what he would find, and was startled when his uncle suddenly came jogging down the stairs, an unnaturally happy grin on his face and a Grunnings drill in one hand. Upon seeing Harry, he turned his smile on him, and Harry fought the urge to recoil.
"Hello, there! Just stopping home briefly. It's so convenient to work for a company that produces such excellent drills! Must get back to the office!" He strode outside; through the glass in the door Harry saw him get into his car. He had taken the drill with him. It was a very large drill, and Harry had noticed that the bit was also quite large, capable of boring holes of at least an inch in diameter.
He turned, startled again, when his aunt came downstairs. She was brushing what seemed to be white powder from her clothes. When she saw him, she was even self-satisfied than his uncle. She passed him without a word and went to the kitchen. Harry shook his head; he could not wait for the day he didn't have to live with two such mental people anymore. His brief bout of missing Surrey was cured.
After he ate his lunch he decided to go to Mrs. Figg's. He'd been putting it off, but there was no denying that Draco Malfoy needed to know about the Obedience Charm Voldemort had put on him when he was a baby. He'd been distracted by the marquee in the park and had not thought to tell him that morning. What if Voldemort does the same thing with Malfoy he did with me last September, uses the Tempus Fugit spell to talk to him? What if he gives him a direct order and Malfoy refuses? Malfoy would drop dead in a second. And if he agreed to whatever it was, lying, and thinking, 'Well, I won't do it,' he'd get the shock of his life when he felt magically compelled to do it anyway. There was no denying it: Malfoy had to know.
He thought about his mother telling him about the Obedience Charm in the cave, before she tried to kill Ron. Why hadn't she told him before his initiation? It would have been nice to know. Perhaps, in that setting, she expected him to have the sense to do as he was told. Luckily, he wasn't told to do anything like engage in cannibalism. He managed to spirit away Viktor Krum's body before it came to that. Perhaps that's what Voldemort was after, he thought. Perhaps he was counting on my refusing to eat part of a human, and Draco Malfoy too. If we had outright refused we'd have dropped dead and he wouldn't have had to worry about us anymore. Maybe there was more to that than gaining Viktor's power by consuming his still-warm body…
He shuddered, feeling his lunch move uncomfortably within him as he walked to Mrs. Figg's in the warm June afternoon. Malfoy had to know. He could have died at his initiation in this life. Harry remembered the way he had interrupted Voldemort to suggest using the Hara Kiri curse on Karkaroff. (Fortunately, the Obedience Charm carried no penalty for rudeness.) Harry thought about a father who would put a curse like Hara Kiri on his son, and he stopped being surprised that Lucius Malfoy had said nothing about the Obedience Charm.
When he reached the house, the car wasn't in the drive, so he assumed Mrs. Figg was out. He knocked at the door, receiving no answer. He waited several minutes before walking around to the rear; no one was in the garden, either. Malfoy had gone out as well, it seemed. To give himself something to do while he waited, he set to work weeding Mrs. Figg's peony border, which was being encroached by dandelions. He knew that in her terse, gruff way, she'd be grateful.
Harry lost track of time, and finally he heard the sound of Mrs. Figg's elderly maroon Ford trundling into the drive. He glanced up from his weeding and got a shock; Mrs. Figg wasn't driving, Draco Malfoy was. His jaw dropped open in astonishment.
Malfoy emerged from the driver's side of the car, grinning and leaning on the open door, saying, "That's attractive, Potter. Keep it up and you might solve our bug problem."
Harry clamped his mouth shut again. He stared at the car and Mrs. Figg, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. "You did this!" he declared, seeing her blanche upon being accused. She was flustered, putting her hand to her breastbone.
"You see, I, um…oh dear," her voice quavered.
Malfoy slammed the car door. "Lighten up, Potter. Muggle red tape is ridiculous. Who hasn't wished they could move things along a bit, skip steps like getting a provisional license…"
"But—but—" Harry sputtered. "You're not supposed to do more than wish it! You're not supposed to use magic to—"
"Hush!" Mrs. Figg declared, suddenly losing her feeble-old-woman façade. With a wave of her hand, Harry's mouth was sealed. Or rather, it was gone. He touched where his mouth had been. There was slightly bristly uninterrupted skin from his nose to his chin; no orifice whatsoever.
"Mmm mmm MMM!" Harry yelled to the best of his ability. He at least had a voice box in his throat, from which the noise emanated. Draco Malfoy seemed like he was about to roll about on the ground laughing fit to kill.
"Get in the house!" the old woman snapped irritably. Harry's throaty moans grew louder and more indignant. "That'll teach you to shut yer yob in public, won't it?" She sighed and shook her head as she herded the boys toward the house. "Muggle upbringing, no sense." Draco Malfoy was turning purple from trying not to laugh at the mouthless, irate Harry.
Once they were in the kitchen again, Mrs. Figg waved her hand casually at Harry, and his mouth reappeared. He gasped and immediately started yelling again. "What the hell was that? What are you going to do next? Turn him into a bouncing ferret, like your brother did?"
She squinted at him. "What?"
"When she removed your mouth she must have removed a few brain cells as well, Potter. That wasn't the real Moody, remember? And—" he lowered his voice, "don't give her any ideas."
Harry threw himself crossly into a kitchen chair. "Point out that someone's breaking the law, and the next thing you know your mouth is gone. It isn't like I grassed on anyone."
She stood at the cooker, putting the kettle on, though it was a very warm day. He remembered that she never considered it too warm for a cuppa. She waved her hand at the kettle and it almost immediately started whistling. She waggled her eyebrows at the cupboard, and three cups and saucers flew to the table, joined by three spoons soaring from the drawer beside the cooker. With a slight finger movement, the kettle poured water into the old brown teapot, after which it floated to the table, along with the sugar bowl and cream pitcher.
Mrs. Figg sat opposite Harry and nodded at him. "You can be mother," she told him. He grimaced, irked that she hadn't apologized for hexing him. But he poured the already-perfectly-steeped tea into the cups.
As they took turns with the cream pitcher and sugar lumps, Mrs. Figg spoke. "Harry, hear me out and don't pass judgment until you know what's what. First, I want to ask you a question. How exactly do you think a witch or wizard who didn't grow up in the Muggle world goes about getting a license to drive an automobile?"
Harry shrugged. "The same way everybody else does. You go to the post office and fill out the form, you send it to the DVLA…"
"And what does the witch or wizard use for identification?"
"I dunno. A passport. A birth certificate. The usual sort of thing."
"Harry, as far as the British government is concerned, we don't exist. Unless we do a little wand-waving, we don't have Muggle birth certificates or passports. And I wanted Draco to have a license with a minimum of waiting and bureaucracy, so I just—sped things up a bit."
"In addition to creating a false identity for him."
"His license says Draco Malfoy. However, it lists this address as his official residence and the seventh of June for his birthdate, rather than the seventh of July, and of course, his provisional license dates back to the seventh of June as well."
"You couldn't wait one more week for him to turn seventeen? Even if he doesn't exist as far as the government knows, you could at least generate a birth certificate for him with the correct birthdate, apply for a provo and wait for it to come in the post like anyone else."
Mrs. Figg finished her tea and put her teacup down with a clatter. "You, Harry Potter, do not know what you are talking about. How do you think your friend Aberforth Dumbledore has functioned in business all these years? Do you think he explains to all of his clients that he's a wizard and not really called Dick Abernathy? Do you think he shows government employees a one-hundred-forty-year-old birth certificate issued by the Ministry of Magic? Grow up—you've lived for years in the Muggle world. Your parents had your birth recorded in Cardiff and you have a record of attending a Muggle school. The queen's government believes that you're a person. That was not true of Draco. I have wards on my house preventing anyone from Apparating in or out, now that Draco's staying with me again. I can't very well take off on my broom whenever I want—not that I care for brooms at my age—and it's a security risk to have my fireplace on the Floo Network. I do not care for driving; my reflexes and vision are not what they used to be. If you had your choice, would you rather I was behind the wheel of an automobile or Draco?"
Harry grimaced and Draco Malfoy mumbled, "Typical Gryffindor reaction."
"Typical Slytherin behavior, circumventing the rules, anything to achieve an end."
"Now, now. All wizards who suddenly find themselves needing to function in the Muggle world do it. And your beloved Aberforth was a Hufflepuff. So there," she said, as if that settled it. Harry drank his tea, miffed about his mouth.
"And," he shot at Malfoy, "your girlfriend is a Gryffindor, and everyone in her family, whom you're trying to impress, so I wouldn't advise you to make too many comments about 'typical Gryffindor' behavior around the Weasleys."
"Speaking of Weasleys, weren't you the one who flew to school in the Weasleys' car at the beginning of second year? Weren't beyond breaking more than a few rules there, were you? If I remember correctly, it was all over the Evening Prophet that night. Loads of Muggles saw you, and there was another story a few months later about Weasley's dad getting in trouble at work because of it."
"He's also Ginny's dad, and you'd better stop being so smug about that if you expect him to let you near his daughter again."
Mrs. Figg sighed and waved her hand; the cups and saucers and other tea things hurled themselves into the sink, which started filling with a mixture of hot and cold water from the separate taps. Harry frowned; he'd had his teacup to his mouth and it had flown out of his hand.
"That's enough," she said. "You didn't know we'd gone to Swansea to get Draco his license, obviously, so you must have come for some other reason besides accusing us of high crimes and misdemeanors."
Harry grimaced. In the fuss over Mrs. Figg bending the rules he'd almost forgotten. That was what had happened virtually every day since he'd restored the timelines—something always seemed to get him sidetracked before he could find a moment to talk to Malfoy about the Obedience Charm.
"I recently found out something that I thought Malfoy—er, Draco—should know. I'm surprised you didn't tell him. But—wait. Maybe you did."
Draco Malfoy looked back and forth between Harry and Mrs. Figg. "All right. I give up. What are you talking about?"
Mrs. Figg scowled. "Yes, Harry. What are you talking about?"
Harry drew his lips into a line. "Okay. Here's what I know." He turned to Malfoy. "When you were about a year old, Voldemort came to your parents because of the Prophecy. He gave them a choice: raise you to be his servant or he'd kill you. They chose to cooperate, and he put a spell on you as a kind of insurance. It was an Obedience Charm."
Draco Malfoy glared at his former nanny. "Did you know about this?"
She shook her head vigorously. "This is news to me. How did you find out, Harry?"
How did he find out? He could say, I was trying to prevent my mum killing Ron Weasley, and she explained to me that she was doing it so I wouldn't be ordered to by Voldemort, because if I refused, I'd die. Right. I'm going to have to deal with this 'I can't tell you' nonsense all over again.
"I can't—how really isn't the important part. The important thing is the way the spell works. If you," he said, nodding at Draco Malfoy, "receive a direct order from Voldemort, you have to either agree to it or refuse to do it."
The blond boy smirked. "And how is that different from not being under an Obedience Charm?"
"What happens after that is what's different. If you agree to do whatever you're told, even if you were lying and never had any intention of doing it, once you agree, you will do whatever it is, or die in the attempt. If it's at all possible, that is. For instance, if you're told to kill someone who's already dead, there's no effect. And it can't be overcome, like Imperius."
Draco Malfoy frowned. "That's definitely not good. I mean, I wouldn't have been able to lie at the initiation, since there were so many other people around, but that's why I suggested using the Japanese spell, so I couldn't be sent to prison for performing an Unforgivable Curse, if anyone in the Ministry found out."
Harry shuddered. He had performed two of the three Unforgivable Curses; he had attempted to kill Tom Riddle with one, and he had influenced his mother with Imperius when he changed the timelines. I've never put Cruciatus on anyone, though.
"Yeah," he went on. "That's why I thought you should know. Lying won't do any good in a situation like that."
Draco Malfoy stared at the table.
When the uncomfortable silence had stretched for quite some time, Harry cleared his throat. "There's—there's more."
Mrs. Figg looked up. "How much more?"
"If Voldemort gives you," he nodded at Draco Malfoy, "a direct order and you refuse to do it—" He stopped; he didn't know how to do this. How did my mother put it?
"Well?" Malfoy burst out. "What?"
"You'll drop dead." He just blurted it out. Malfoy stared.
Harry nodded, remembering the cave again, the wild look in his mother's eyes…
"But," he added, "there's one good thing. Kind of."
"Kind of?" Malfoy practically squeaked. "What? I get wizarding trading stamps? What could possibly make up for what you just told me?"
"I didn't say it makes up for it. I said there was a good thing about all this. Okay, not a good thing precisely—more like something that's not awful."
"That's not exactly the same, is it? What the hell is it?"
"When he performs this spell—or when anyone performs it—he gives up a part of his power and you get it. The idea is—since he wants to use you to do things, the extra power makes it more likely you'll succeed. The power leaves him. That's why he wanted your parents to agree to raise you to be his servant; if they didn't, and he put the Obedience Charm on you and starting giving you orders when you were older—if you didn't know about what would happen by refusing to do as you're told and you didn't feel any loyalty to him—you could just say 'no' and drop dead. If that were to happen, all of the power he'd put into you would die with you—he wouldn't get that back."
Malfoy was very cross. "That's hardly what I'd call 'good.'"
"You do have a little more power than most wizards. Some of his power went into me, too, when he tried to kill me and the curse rebounded. That's why I can speak Parseltongue. But my parents wouldn't promise me to him, so he didn't put the Obedience Charm on me. He tried to kill me instead."
"Extra power. I don't feel bloody extra powerful."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe you'll find that some advanced magic you've never tried before seventh year comes naturally to you. Who knows? And you already know how to Apparate. If you found it fairly simple to learn to do, the extra power he gave you could be a possible reason." He remembered yet another thing about the Obedience Charm. "Oh, erm, there's one more thing."
Malfoy sighed. "Something else?"
"Yeah. You, uh—you can't cast a spell on Voldemort that will hurt him."
"And that's good?"
"I didn't say this one was good. You can't put Avada Kedavra on him, or Cruciatus or Hara Kiri. If there's the possibility that he could hurt himself falling if you were to stun him, you couldn't do that either."
"What do you mean, I can't?"
"You just can't. If you aim your wand at him and try, it will veer off at the last minute and the spell will hit something—or someone—else. If another person is standing nearby, it could be very dangerous. If you were in a situation where you needed to hurt him, you'd have to do it indirectly, or without magic at all. If the spell wouldn't hurt him, you could cast something on him like the Impediment Curse. As long as it doesn't mean stopping him in the middle of a busy motorway with a large lorry bearing down on him. Then that probably wouldn't work either."
Malfoy stared at the table before raising his eyes to Harry again. "Is that it?"
Harry nodded. "If my parents had agreed to do what he wanted, I'd have the same spell on me. But, like me, you do have some of his power."
Malfoy grimaced. "You have some of his power without the problem of not being able to hurt him and not being able to refuse an order, and with the ability to lie about following an order. Yeah. That's the same," he added sarcastically.
Mrs. Figg raised her eyebrows. "I just pulled off some very complicated magic on Muggle computers and paper records in order to get you behind the wheel of my car, and you're going to start whinging about this?"
"But—but—" Malfoy sputtered.
She waved her hand and Malfoy flinched, perhaps assuming that he might be the next one to lose his mouth. "No. You just have to deal with it. You're lucky Harry found out about this. You're forewarned and forearmed."
"The best thing to do would be to make sure Voldemort doesn't get anywhere near him."
Draco Malfoy gave him a withering look. "And winner of this year's Most Painfully Obvious Statement goes to Harry Pot—"
"Listen, Malfoy, I didn't have to say anything, did I?"
"And you haven't said—how did you find out about this? And how long have you known?"
"That's my business. Since I can see that you're so grateful about it, I think I'll go home and have my tea!"
"Fine!" Draco Malfoy spat.
"And I'll see you at my house for running tomorrow morning!" he said as he opened the door, still in his yelling-spitefully mode, in spite of the wild inappropriateness.
"Fine!" Malfoy responded, evidently also stuck in a rut.
Harry stalked home, his stomach churning with emotion. He'd have liked to be able to drive before his birthday, but he was going to spend his birthday in a castle on the Isle of Bute, which didn't have bridges connecting it to the mainland; the only access by road required a ferry. He couldn't say he was slightly jealous that Mrs. Figg wasn't breaking the law for his sake, so his response came out as stiff-necked objection to law-breaking in general. He ran his hand through his hair as he walked. If he saw Draco Malfoy tooling around in Mrs. Figg's car he'd have to make the best of it and not admit that it made him green with envy.
He walked in the kitchen door and washed his hands at the sink before settling at his usual place for his tea. His uncle had already tucked into his bangers and mash and was reading the evening newspaper. Before he hid behind the rustling pages, Harry thought he saw a smirk on his face. As his aunt helped herself to another sausage, she had a smile hovering around the corners of her mouth which she was trying unsuccessfully to suppress.
Harry gulped his food, looking back and forth between them every so often, but mostly attempting to pretend he wasn't paying attention to them. To have somewhere else to look, he occupied himself reading an article in the newspaper that Vernon was holding before his face:
Charismatic Speaker Comes to Surrey
Rodney Jeffries, the new sensation in the world of inspirational speakers and faith healers, is bringing the show to Surrey for the next fortnight. Mr. Jeffries has been taking the country by storm since last Bonfire Night, when he spoke at a gathering in Blackpool, where he convinced a young man who had inadvertently set himself ablaze for the celebration that he not only wasn't afire but talked him out of having the very burns that others had already seen on his skin! Rodney Jeffries' unique blend of inspiration and mind-over-matter has made him a sensation not to be missed! Tickets: £ 20.
Harry shook his head. What some people did for entertainment. Twenty pounds was rather steep. He'd rather go to the cinema; he'd gone for the first time the previous summer, when he'd developed a habit of taking himself to a different film every week on one of his days off. Since Draco Malfoy was working on that day, he went alone, sitting in the dark eating Mars bars, wishing he'd thought to take Hermione to a film or two during the previous summer when she'd stayed on Privet Drive.
He wished he could talk to Hermione as a friend again. He wondered how soon they'd get past the awkwardness that had resulted from their breaking up and her (sort of) getting together with Ron. He also missed Ron; since Lupin had bitten him and turned him into a werewolf he'd been a bit distant with both him and Hermione, though Harry had accompanied him on all of the nights that he'd been a wolf so far.
Oddly, he had the best chance of becoming good friends with Draco Malfoy, since he was staying in Surrey again this summer. The only problem with that was the fact that Malfoy was Ginny Weasley's boyfriend, and, as much as he'd tried to talk himself out of it, Harry was completely and utterly in love with Ginny. He knew it was hopeless, but he couldn't help it. He daydreamed about her; he had dreams about her at night, as well. He'd been surprised by the nature of these dreams; they were just walking hand in hand, or she was flying on his back while he soared over the Forbidden Forest as a golden griffin. He felt incredibly peaceful after having these dreams, with only a few exceptions; sometimes, the pleasantness of the dream was interrupted by Draco Malfoy appearing and taking her away from Harry. The disturbing one was where Harry and Ginny had walked into one of the greenhouses and Draco Malfoy had been there, reclining on a robe on the floor with his shirt open, saying, "Thanks awfully for bringing her, Potter," as Ginny ran toward him and started kissing the blond boy passionately.
Harry shook himself as he walked upstairs. Suddenly, a wall of rain hit the house, the drops thudding noisily off the window at the top of the stairs. Harry walked to the window and gazed at the sky, frowning; it was pale blue, the sun wasn't even setting yet, as it was high summer. Where the hell was all this water coming from?
Harry looked down; his uncle had gone outside after Harry had left the kitchen and he was aiming the garden hose at the house, spraying it as if it were burning violently. Harry could hear the water striking the roof as he walked down the corridor to his bedroom, but he heard a different sound coming from within the room. It sounded like—like it was raining inside his bedroom.
He flung open the door and saw how his uncle planned to get him to repair the roof; he'd used the drill he'd brought home during lunch to drill holes in Harry's ceiling over his bed. That was why Aunt Petunia was covered in plaster dust. And, he assumed, Uncle Vernon's voice had been muffled because he was probably doing all of this from the loft, making some holes above his head in the roof itself, and others in Harry's ceiling, through the floor of the loft.
Harry had been angry during his short life. He had been angry enough with Vernon's sister Marge when she had insulted his parents that he'd inflated her into a large and unattractive balloon. He'd been angry enough with Malfoy and his goony sidekicks, Crabbe and Goyle, to put the Furnunculus Curse on the three of them on the Hogwarts Express after fourth year. He recalled being very angry in his other life as well, but he didn't think it was possible he'd ever been angrier than he was at this moment.
He strode quickly to his desk and pulled out his wand, ready to put the Aegis shielding charm on his entire ceiling and the Dessicatio charm on his bed to dry it out. He stopped himself in the nick of time. Two spells, just for the sake of not having a wet bedroom, might not be so easily overlooked by the Ministry. He was the new Hogwarts Head Boy. Carving Jamie's name into his parents' gravestone was one thing, but he would be performing these spells in the house at number four, Privet Drive. It would be rather difficult to explain why he had to do this. (It couldn't be explained away as self-defense, for instance.) He put his wand down dejectedly, watching the water cascade onto his sodden mattress, streams flowing onto the floor via the messy sheets.
He stomped down the corridor and stairs again before going outside to the tap controlling the hosepipe, turning it off thoroughly. He looked up, seeing his uncle staring into the end of the dripping nozzle with confusion. Harry was tempted to turn the water on again full blast while the thing was pointing at his uncle's face, but he resisted this urge. Instead he strode to his uncle and crossed his arms, glaring at him.
"All right. I'll replace the ruddy roof—"
His uncle smiled beatifically at him, as if he hadn't just been attempting to drown all of Harry's earthly belongings and soak the bed in which he slept. "Splendid, splendid. I'll order the supplies."
"But I'm still working for Aber—I mean, Mr. Abernathy. Dick. I'll do the roof after work and on my days off."
His uncle considered this with narrowed eyes. "All right. But you make sure it's done before you leave."
Harry agreed to do the roof before leaving for the Isle of Bute, returning to his bedroom to assess the damage. His bed was hopeless, but to limit the amount of water getting all over the house, he threw the mattress straight out the window, along with the spring. After this he hauled in the mattress and spring from the guestroom, leaving them without a place for guests to sleep should there be any. However, Harry was fairly confident that Hermione would not be turning up on his doorstep this year. Sirius was not staying with the Grangers during the holiday, as he had the previous summer, but Hermione had hinted broadly that another witch or wizard was going to be a guest and so she would have plenty of protection.
When he'd finished putting his room in order again and it only smelled slightly damp, Harry collapsed on his new mattress without benefit of sheets, exhausted, asleep almost as soon as he put his glasses on the bedside table and his head on the pillow. In one month he would be seventeen. He could make it, he told himself as he dozed off. He could. He would not hex his aunt and uncle's roof so it leaked like a sieve the next time it rained.
But this thought caused him to fall asleep with a broad smile on his face.
He was abruptly awoken by an odd whirring noise. It felt as if he'd only been asleep for five minutes, but, judging by the sun in the east, it was morning. When he'd been assessing damage, he'd taken some damp magical supplies out of his slightly-flooded trunk, including his Pocket Sneak-O-Scope, which he'd left on his desk. He groaned. That stupid thing again. Normally he kept it in the bottom of the trunk stuffed in one of the hand-knit socks Dobby the house-elf had given him, but he'd thrown the damp socks out the window along with his mattress.
He groaned as the small metal sphere continued whirring and clicking. He pulled on his running shorts, a clean shirt and his trainers. What the hell's wrong with the thing? He went to the desk to examine it, glancing carelessly out the window at the milkman, who was making a delivery to a house two doors away. Except he wasn't. He had put down a plastic crate of dairy products and appeared to be holding a wand, pointing it at the door and saying something Harry couldn't hear. Without pausing for a second, he shoved the Sneak-O-Scope into the pocket of his shorts and sprinted down the steps and out the front door, racing to the neighbors' house by leaping over the intervening hedges.
In his rubber-soled trainers he'd been fairly quiet, despite the fact that to him his breathing and heartbeat were deafeningly loud. The intruder was already in the house and didn't realize that he had been seen. When Harry reached the open doorway he held out his hand and cried, "Expelliarmus!" just as the ersatz milkman was turning around. The startled man flew backward and hit his head on the wall. A framed picture beside his head crashed to the floor, the glass shattering. The wand flew neatly into Harry's hand. He stared at it. Bollocks. What now? The Sneak-O-Scope had stopped going mad, perhaps because the "milkman" was out cold. The wand was only about seven inches, so Harry stuffed it into his sock. He ran back to his house, leaving the door to his neighbor's house open, the slumped man on the floor, the plastic crate of milk, yogurt and eggs growing warm on the pavement.
He picked up the telephone in the kitchen and struggled to remember Mrs. Figg's number for a moment; when he raised his eyes and saw it on a slip of paper attached to the fridge door with a magnet shaped like a banana it was the first time in his life he'd felt like kissing his aunt. He dialed the number, tapping his toe impatiently, starting to wonder whether it would have been faster to just go to her house. At length, someone answered.
"Wha—?" came a sleepy voice too deep to be Mrs. Figg's (but not by much).
"Malfoy, is that you? Listen, I've got trouble over here. The milkman was breaking into the Nelsons' house with a wand. They're two doors away. I disarmed him and he's out cold and I've got his wand. I don't know whether the Nelsons have woken or not and I don't know where the real milkman is. Because this obviously isn't really our milkman. I mean, I know what the real milkman looks like—he's called Oscar or something—and this one looks exactly like him, but obviously it's a wizard who's taken his place, and I need Mrs. Figg to contact the Ministry and get people over here to do memory charms or something if the Nelsons wake up and wonder what's going on and also to work out who this wizard is and what he's done with Otto—wait, he's called Otto—and why he's done it, and—"
He paused for a moment, hearing only silence on the other end. "Malfoy? Are you there?"
"Who is this?"
"What do you mean, who is this? It's Harry!"
"I'm sorry, the Harry I know doesn't wake people up at dawn babbling incoherently about wizard milkmen."
"Evidently, the Harry you know does. Listen, will you just tell Mrs. Figg to call the Ministry and get someone over here to find out what's going on?" he practically screamed into the phone, not caring whether he might wake his aunt and uncle. "This wizard could be a Death Eater for all we know. I mean, he was breaking into a house two doors away from where I live. Maybe he thought it was my house and he was off by two. Maybe after taking on the form of the milkman he was going to take on the form of one of the Nelsons so he'd live near me. Just tell Mrs. Figg!"
Before the other boy could answer, Harry slammed down the phone and went to his room, pulling his Invisibility Cloak out of his wardrobe, where he'd hung it to dry. He put it on and examined himself in the mirror; the brief dampness hadn't hurt its effectiveness, but it was giving off a faint odor of mildew. He couldn't be bothered with worrying about that. He left the house again and walked to the Nelsons', the other wizard's wand in his sock. He stepped gingerly into the house, careful not to tread on the broken glass from the fallen picture frame. The wizard was starting to wake, rubbing his head, so Harry pulled the wand out of his sock and pointed it through the cloak, saying, "Stupefy!" He had given up caring about doing magic outside of school. Let the Ministry come down on him for this, just let them try. At the least, this man was breaking into a house, which was against Muggle laws. Never mind what he might have done that was against wizarding law.
The wait seemed interminable to Harry. He wondered why the Nelsons hadn't come downstairs when the body had struck the wall, but he noticed their car missing from the drive. They must be away. So—a fake milkman is pretending to make a delivery to an empty house. He must have known it was empty. At least the Nelsons were a worry he didn't have now.
He heard a siren in the distance, growing closer and closer, finally stopping in front of the house. Two constables from the Little Whinging police emerged from the car and walked down the neat path to the front door. Harry withdrew into the doorway to the dining room. Where the hell is Mrs. Figg, or someone from the ministry?
The constables were very similar brown-haired young men not much older than Harry, it seemed, who had probably been up all night and were waiting to go home when this happened.
"Scott," said one of them, "where did she say the control panel is?"
The other one consulted a small notebook he withdrew from his pocket. "Um—beside the back door."
The two officers walked toward Harry, who neatly sidestepped them so they could pass through the dining room on the way to the kitchen. He followed. The one who wasn't Scott went to an electronic control panel with flashing lights and punched in a code he read from the same small notebook. The flashing lights stilled and both young men breathed a sigh of relief.
"That'll stop the alarm bell at the monitoring station. The girl there says this lot are on holiday for the next month. Called before they left. Silent alarm here in the house, luckily. The neighbors probably weren't disturbed. We'd better see about the bloke on the floor."
The three of them went back to examine the milkman. The officers tried to get him to come round, with no success. Harry knew that no Muggle method of rejuvenation would work. Only the Enervate counter-spell could wake a stunned person.
After they'd been trying for what seemed to Harry several days, they gave up. "Dunno what's wrong wif'im, Bert. Got a pulse, but not really doin' much breathin'."
Bert picked up the hall phone and dialed. "Right. Ambulance." He gave the address and hung up. In no time, the ambulance was pulling into the drive, and still neither Mrs. Figg nor Draco Malfoy had arrived, and no one from the Ministry of Magic. The Muggles were going to take him somewhere. Harry couldn't decide whether this was good or bad. Good if Mrs. Figg or the other operatives could work out where he was; bad if the Death Eaters sussed it out first and went to retrieve him.
He watched, resigned, as they bore him outside. He slipped out the door with the police, practically tripping over the crate of milk bottles and eggs. The officers closed the door and the one called Bert stared at it. "Family on holiday," he mused, "milkman breaks in, as if desperate to deliver his wares, he gets knocked silly and can't be brought round…"
His partner seemed less interested in actually working out what happened; he was trying to make sure they had all of their T's crossed and I's dotted. "We'll have to call the dairy. So's they know what's happened to their man. And what'll we do about the deliveries?" Scott wanted to know. Bert stared at him.
"There's all these people expecting their milk and eggs on their doorstep like always, and there's no one to do it today, is there? How are they to know what's happened? What will they think?"
Bert walked to the police car shaking his head, as if wondering how he'd been stuck with this git for a partner. "What we do is get back to our own jobs. It's not our look-out if someone can't do theirs because they're in hospital."
"But we should at least call the dairy—"
"If you like. Fine. Call the dairy when we get back," he said before he stopped. "Wait," he said to his partner, clearly thinking hard. "Before they went on holiday, they called the alarm monitoring station to say they'd be away. And is there a newspaper on the step?" Harry, along with the partner, turned to look. "No there is not. They cancelled delivery, too, I'll wager, before leaving. So—if you're going on holiday, there are certain things you do. You cancel the newspaper, you call the alarm monitoring station, if you have an alarm, and—" he said suggestively, prompting his partner. Scott seemed blank; his eyes squinted as he worked to think of what Bert was implying.
"Oh!" he said finally. "You cancel the milk delivery!"
Bert nodded. "Precisely. So here we have someone who knew they were going on holiday, but apparently not that they had an alarm system, and he thought he'd let himself in and nick a few things while they were away."
His partner nodded, clearly impressed by the mental prowess of the other man. "See, Bert, that's why you're gonna get a promotion. Now, me, I'd be wond'rin' who'd knocked 'im out. 'Specially since you'd 'spect that person to hang 'round, seein' as 'e's a 'ero."
Bert frowned, clearly not wanting to admit that his simple explanation of the milkman using his inside knowledge to choose an advantageous break-in time might be a bit off. He sighed as he climbed behind the wheel. "Yes, well," he heard him say awkwardly to Scott. "Happens all the time. You got to watch who you tell these things." Harry watched the ambulance and police car set off toward the village, worrying about the real Otto, who was likely to be accused of breaking into the Nelsons' house. Where is Otto? But suddenly, he had a bad feeling he knew where he was.
The milk van was parked near the entrance to the Nelsons' drive. Harry walked to it and took hold of the handle to the cooling compartment by grasping it through the fabric of the cloak. The door popped open abruptly, and Harry froze. The real Otto the Milkman, bound and gagged, was sitting in the back of his own van in nothing but his underwear. If he had actually been aware of his surroundings, he would have been very surprised by the door of the compartment opening itself. But Otto had been stunned, just as Harry had stunned the impostor, and no expression registered on his utterly blank face. Harry closed the door again, but not all the way—he didn't want Otto to suffocate. Who cared if the dairy products spoiled if there was a choice between that and keeping a man alive? A man who doesn't know he's been framed for a break-in. Harry didn't dare revive him while he was in the back of his van. If he had known how to do a memory charm, that would be one thing, but he didn't. That was another thing underage wizards weren't allowed to do. Finally, he felt he couldn't wait any longer; he ran the best that he could while wearing the cloak, and when he reached Mrs. Figg's house, he pounded on the door impatiently. While he waited, he took off the cloak and rolled it into a ball.
Just when he felt tempted to cast the Alohomora spell on the door, Malfoy flung it open. He was wearing his running clothes but seemed asleep on his feet.
"Bloody hell, Potter. I thought we were meeting at your house?"
"Bloody hell yourself. And I thought we were using first names, Draco." Harry forced himself to do this; maybe it would remind him of his other life enough that he could manage to stop thinking of Draco Malfoy as the Git of the Year. "And I thought you were going to tell Mrs. Figg to send someone over to the Nelsons' house," he added grumpily, stalking into the entrance hall and through to the kitchen. He needed a drink of water before going running.
He found Mrs. Figg awake unnaturally early, pouring herself some tea. She sat and pulled a slice of toast out of the toast rack, preparing to butter it. "Good morning, Harry. Did you enjoy waking us at an ungodly hour?" was her acid greeting to him.
Harry sputtered. "Why didn't you send someone? I told Malfoy—er, Draco—that a wizard who made himself look like our milkman broke into my neighbors' house, and all I get are Muggle police and a Muggle ambulance!"
She calmly bit into her toast. "How do you know it was a Muggle ambulance?"
Harry's mouth was open; he froze, unable to answer this question, shutting his mouth again before Draco started in on more jokes about solving the bug population explosion problem. "You—you mean—"
She nodded, her mouth full. She took a swig of tea and swallowed. "Those were ours. Operatives. And the ambulance has a strong memory charm on it, so in a little while, the police who were there won't have any recollection of the milkman nor his being taken away in an ambulance. You wouldn't remember it either, if I weren't telling you about it after you're out of range of the spell. It doesn't discriminate between wizards and Muggles. I've also already seen to it that no one goes over there from the ambulance company they actually called." She looked at him. "What? Just because I didn't do exactly as you said doesn't mean I've been sitting around idle. I don't take orders from a not-quite-sixteen-year-old, thank you very much. I spoke to Albus and we worked out who to contact and what should be done. It was quick and discreet. What did you want us to do, send five Aurors in there in robes and pointed hats, waving their wands around? Or would you rather call out the dementors at times like this?"
Harry grimaced, feeling stupid. Truthfully, he'd been completely fooled. He'd had no idea it was wizards taking away the so-called milkman. He couldn't recall their faces, nor what the ambulance looked like. That must be the spell, he thought. Good one.
"So," he said, sitting at the kitchen table. "Will they question him?"
"In time. They'll take him to an infirmary we have in London and let him stew for a bit. Just answer questions related to his health, nothing about his legal status. Let him wonder. It's more likely he'll crack."
Harry pulled the wand out of his sock. "This is his. He was using it to break into the house. After I disarmed him I, er, used it to stun him."
She nodded, sipping her tea. "Don't worry. It's good we have his wand. It's evidence. And you're a witness, unfortunately, but hopefully it won't come to that. Fletcher's an excellent interrogator; gets us plenty of confessions. No one else comes close for it." Harry suppressed an involuntary shudder, trying not to think about what interrogation methods Fletcher used to achieve his success. He remembered seeing Mundungus Fletcher in his own tartan, MacGregor, at the ceilidh in Hogsmeade, and he also remembered Arthur Weasley saying he'd inflated the damages he'd experienced at the Quidditch World Cup (if he'd experienced any) all out of proportion. So though Fletcher was on their side, he obviously didn't feel that scrupulously sticking to the truth was an absolute necessity in all situations.
"The queer thing is," Harry said, "the Nelsons wouldn't normally be away at this time of year. She's usually getting ready to show her prize-winning roses about now. They generally wait until August to go on holiday. So I wonder where they are?"
Mrs. Figg seemed rather disgruntled. "Not a good sign. I'm starting to wonder whether I should let the two of you go out running before next Monday. Every time you leave your house, Harry, you're vulnerable." She tapped her fingers on the table, thinking, before continuing to speak.
"And for your information, I knew about someone breaking into the Nelsons' before you did. Years ago Albus disguised himself as a burglar alarm salesman to go round and sell units to everyone on Privet Drive and the houses behind you as well. Much lower prices than anyone else out there. It seemed a better idea to take advantage of Muggle technology rather than having spells on every house. We have a monitoring station in an office in the village, upstairs from the stationers and across the corridor from a quite respectable solicitor. Nice girl works there during the day, Muggle. She goes in every day and sits patiently in case there are any alarms. Young man handles the evening shift, old bloke who's retired and doesn't care for sleep much anymore handles the overnight. No witches or wizards go near the place and all of the equipment is Muggle. There are no magical signatures anywhere. They've been told that an office elsewhere handles the billing for the monitoring fees, which is how they're paid—except it's not, of course. One reason why no one on Privet Drive has changed to a different alarm company is that they're never charged. Soon after each alarm was installed, there were problems with each of them and—as expected—each household threatened to change over to someone competent. Of course, we hastened to fix the problem and begged them not to change. 'We'll give you sixteen years free,' we said, and they all bought it. Of course, there are spells on your house, various types of complicated protection spells only Albus knows about or understands, but we needed to safeguard against someone going after one of your neighbors in order to be close to you. And we still have to work out what happened to the Nelsons."
"How will waiting for Monday to go running make a difference?"
"Because that's Draco's birthday, and once he's of age he'll be able to take his wand with him when he goes out. He can watch your back."
Harry tried not to sputter. Draco Malfoy, his bodyguard. It was too humiliating. He put his hands into his pockets, miserable and glowering, and his right hand hit the Sneak-O-Scope. He took it out of his pocket and showed it to her.
"But see—I have a Pocket Sneak-O-Scope. It told me when the Nelsons' house was being broken into. We'll be fine."
She was dubious. Harry didn't want Draco Malfoy to be his babysitter until his own birthday rolled around. He'd never hear the end of it. Especially from Draco Malfoy himself. He changed the subject subtly.
"There's another thing. The real milkman was stunned and stuffed into the back of his van. I opened the door a bit, to give him some air, but someone will have to revive him and put a memory charm on him. And the police think he's the one who broke into the house, so will that memory charm on the ambulance make them forget that, so they don't give him trouble?"
"It should. By the way—what were you thinking, leaving the house carrying your wand?"
"What? I didn't leave the house carrying my wand."
"But how did you do the Disarming Charm?"
He shrugged. "With my hand."
She stopped and stared. "You did a Disarming Charm without a wand?" Harry remembered doing this to Lucius Malfoy when he was seven, in his other life. He tried not to smile as he remembered the wand floating around the ceiling of the study, and the furious expression Draco's father wore.
"Er, yeah. I didn't think about it, I just did it." There was an awkward silence as Mrs. Figg regarded him with what seemed a great deal of suspicion. "Er—so someone will take care of the milkman, yeah? Revive him and make sure the police don't come after him? Give him a nice Memory Charm so he doesn't remember being stuffed in his van?"
Mrs. Figg nodded. "I'm on it," she said, draining her tea and rising. The dirty dishes flew into the sink and began to wash themselves. She calmly walked out of the kitchen without saying goodbye, and, to Harry's relief, without saying that they couldn't go running.
When she was gone, Harry said, "What's the big deal? See how much wandless magic she does? Why'd she look at me that way when I said I hadn't used a wand to disarm him?"
Malfoy sighed, reminding Harry of Bert sighing over Scott. "Potter—I mean, Harry—making the dishes fly around and wash and organize themselves is one thing. They were probably charmed ahead of time and now they do what she wants them to do. And that thing where she took away your mouth—easy trick, really. Disarming someone without a wand is something else. That's like—"
"—being able to do the Animagus transfiguration?" Harry said, raising one eyebrow. Malfoy grimaced.
"Yeah. Like that. I know, I know…"
"Listen, you can probably do this kind of thing too, you just haven't tried."
"You mean because of the Obedience Charm?"
"Right. Maybe after your birthday you could find out more about what you can do."
Draco Malfoy stood lost in thought, considering this. "Maybe. Could be interesting."
They left through the back door, and after stretching, started to jog toward the park. Suddenly Harry stopped dead and Draco almost tripped.
"Potter! I mean, Harry!" I mean—bloody hell, what's wrong with you?"
"Damn!" Harry answered. "I just remembered. I promised I'd take the sodding dog with me."
Draco Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "You have a dog?"
"It's my aunt's. We have to go back to my house and get the stupid animal."
Draco shrugged and they changed direction, heading back to Privet Drive. When they came in sight of the house, Harry noticed that the milk van was gone. He let them in the back door and Harry searched for Dunkirk. He strode down the corridor toward the front of the house and found the dog lying on the mat before the front door. Dunkirk emitted a low growl when he saw Harry, who backed up for a second. Malfoy passed him and said, "He's not so bad." As soon as Dunkirk saw Draco Malfoy, he started wagging his tail and sat, looking at him expectantly. Malfoy knelt and petted the dog, scratching behind his ears as Dunkirk put his paws on Malfoy's legs. Harry couldn't hide his surprise.
"He—he likes you! I don't believe it!"
Malfoy turned and made a face at him. "Hell, Harry, you don't have to be so complimentary. I don't frighten babies either."
"No, it's—he doesn't like anyone, aside from Aunt Petunia. Just growls at me and Uncle Vernon. He was saying that soon he's afraid the postman will refuse to come here, as Dunkirk keeps trying to take his leg off."
Draco scratched the dog behind the ears. His tail was going like mad. Dunkirk was clearly very, very happy. Draco shrugged. "I've always got on well with dogs. It's cats I can't stand, and they can't stand me. Dogs are brilliant. Give me a dog any day."
Harry picked up Dunkirk's lead from the hall table. "Fine. You walk him then." Draco shrugged and took the lead from Harry, clipping the end to Dunkirk's collar. Harry couldn't tell what he was saying as he did this, but it seemed to be sing-song endearments about what a fine dog Dunkirk was. This is weird, Harry thought. It was a side of Draco Malfoy that he found frankly disturbing.
"Who's there?" came a shrill voice from upstairs. Harry groaned. His aunt appeared at the top of the stairs in her dressing gown. "First it was those sirens, now—" When she saw Draco she was suddenly flustered and her cheeks became very pink. She walked down, her left hand on the rail, her right hand going nervously to her long neck. "Who—who is this?" she said, her voice cracking slightly. Harry looked back and forth between them. Oh, please, he thought. I just may retch.
"Er—" Harry didn't know what to say. Draco smiled at her in what he probably thought was a charming, dashing manner and stepped forward with his hand out.
"You must be Harry's lovely aunt," he said smoothly, taking her hand gently in his. "Was his mother very much older than you? You must have been a girl when you became an auntie."
Petunia's color had gone from pink to fuchsia. "Actually, I'm the older sis—I mean, yes," she fluttered. "I was rather a young auntie." Harry opened his eyes wide and clamped his mouth shut. I will not say anything, I will not say anything…
"I'm Draco Malfoy. Mrs. Figg used to be my nanny and I'm staying with her again for the summer holidays. I met Harry last year when he was also staying with Nanny Bella. My parents are having an architect do over Malfoy Manor, and there's plaster dust everywhere."
She smiled broadly and batted her eyelashes. "Your nanny! Well. And Malfoy Manor, you say? Sounds lovely." Her voice was positively breathy. Harry was no longer disturbed by Dunkirk liking Draco Malfoy. He'd sunk to a new all-time low when it came to being disturbed.
"Yes—we were going for a run and Harry said he promised to bring Dunkirk with us." He picked up the dog, who enthusiastically licked his chin. Draco laughed. Harry made a face, but his aunt didn't notice; she didn't take her eyes from Draco Malfoy.
"He likes you!" she said rapturously. "Of course, you know what they say—a dog is an excellent judge of character," she added, with a withering sidelong glance at Harry, who had never fought harder in his life to not stick out his tongue.
"We should be going," Harry said stiffly. Dunkirk turned in Draco's arms and gave him a low growl. His aunt laughed.
"Don't worry," Draco told her, without looking at Harry. "I'll be the one holding Dunkirk's lead. We'll give him a good run, down to the park and back." He put Dunkirk down and put the loop on the end of the lead around his wrist before opening the door. Harry couldn't help a guffaw escaping him as Draco was suddenly jerked forward by the excited little dog, who was surprisingly strong. "G'bye!" he called awkwardly over his shoulder. Harry ran out the door, trying to catch up. His aunt could close the door, he reckoned. When he glanced over his shoulder, though, she was watching Draco Malfoy run off with a dreamy expression on her face.
Eergh, was the only thought that came into Harry's head.
When they finally reached the park, Draco collapsed onto the grass and Dunkirk came to him for petting. He received some lackadaisical pats on the head, but Draco was clearly too winded to bother with more. The dog had pulled the blond boy the whole way, running enthusiastically toward the park. Draco had clearly found the pace a bit difficult, and Harry was a bit smug; the pace felt about right to him. He didn't say anything; he just kept up a steady pounding with his feet and ignored Draco's labored huffing and puffing.
Dunkirk sat beside Draco, his front paws together neatly, his tongue hanging out. If Harry didn't completely detest him, he might have found the terrier rather cute. He noticed that the large white marquee was still up. He frowned. "That's odd." He nodded toward the white cloth "building" dominating the landscape. "They haven't taken the marquee down."
Draco shrugged. "Why should they?"
"If you remember, there wasn't a marquee permanently set up in the park last summer. I thought it was for a wedding, and that it would be gone by now."
"You own the park or something?"
"No, it's just—"
Suddenly, the Pocket Sneak-O-Scope started going mad again, vibrating against his leg and making a whirring noise. Draco frowned. "What's that?"
"It's my Sneak-O—never mind," he said quickly as a young woman came round the side of the tent, walking toward them. She was tall and slim, with long light hair and bright blue eyes shining vividly out of her deeply tanned face. When she smiled she seemed to have more teeth than anyone else Harry had ever seen, and the legs below the hem of her very short skirt seemed abnormally long.
"Hello there!" she said, grinning. "You're up early!" She sounded either American or Australian to Harry, he couldn't decide which.
Draco brightened when he saw her, scrambling to his feet. She didn't seem sorry to see him either. First my aunt, he thought. Now this girl. He glanced at Draco Malfoy, trying to see him objectively. His shoulders had broadened and the sturdy arms protruding from his T-shirt showed part of the dragon tattoo he'd got the previous summer. His legs were pale from being hidden under robes, but they were also quite sturdy. His blond hair was longish, flopping over his brow.
The girl turned to Harry, and she saw more appreciation there. At least I haven't got a girlfriend. It was odd; he'd never thought about this before. I could go out with other girls if I wanted. The trouble was, the only girl he wanted to be with was taken. He eyed Draco again, trying not to be resentful and failing.
"We were out for a run with the dog," Draco informed her, picking up Dunkirk. She cooed at the Yorkshire terrier, who licked her hand in a friendly way. The Sneak-O-Scope continued to go mad, and Harry slipped his hand into his pocket, wrapping it around the noisy thing to muffle the sound.
It was too little too late. She looked around, frowning. "What's that sound?" Draco raised his brows.
"Umm—it's my mobile," Harry said, taking his hand out of his pocket and patting the leg of his shorts. "It'll stop eventually."
She frowned. "Aren't you going to answer it?"
He tried to seem unconcerned. "Nah. I know who it is. I'll talk to them later."
She turned back to Draco. "I'm Grace. Are you two coming tonight?"
They stared at each other in confusion. "What?" Harry responded.
"Coming to hear Rodney. We had a fabulous turnout last night. Standing room only. And the things he did!" she said rapturously. Draco looked at Harry for an explanation, but he didn't give him one.
"Er, probably not tonight," Harry answered. "Maybe before he leaves. This is where he's been speaking?" he asked, patting the marquee lightly.
"Yes. It's nice to have a familiar setting everywhere we go. I've been with the staff since last December. I was working at the American embassy in Paris, it was the dream of a lifetime, but a friend in London had me up to visit at Christmas, and we went to hear Rodney speak, and it changed my life." She sighed and looked at Draco again, then Harry. Well, Harry thought, she's equal-opportunity. Harry had an idea.
"Too bad Ginny lives so far away, Draco," he said. "She might like to hear Rodney."
"Who's Ginny?" the girl asked.
"Oh—his girlfriend," Harry answered, glaring pointedly at Draco, who was looking daggers at Harry.
"Girlfriend?" Grace, genuinely perplexed. "So—you're not a couple?"
Draco sputtered and practically dropped the dog. "Hell, no!" he cried, and Harry tried not to laugh, even as he was getting a strong sense of déjà vu from his other life, when he and Draco were traveling south from Scotland. He had a sudden urge to drape his arm around the other boy's shoulders and go along, though Draco would want to kill him if he did that. He didn't dare.
"No," Harry said, "we're just friends and co-workers," he added. "I've recently broken up with my girlfriend."
The girl's wrist beeped and she checked her watch. "Gosh darn it. I've got to go. Duty calls. Some other time, then." She started to go, calling over her shoulder to Draco, "Bring your girlfriend if you can!" before disappearing around the corner of the marquee again.
As they jogged back toward Privet Drive, Draco asked Harry, "Who the hell is this Rodney?"
"Mrs. Figg gets the Muggle papers. Check yesterday's. He's an inspirational speaker of some sort. But something bothered me about the way the article described him." He reeled off the information for Draco about the man being healed of his burns on Bonfire Day.
"So—what? You think he's a wizard?"
"Possibly. There are some Muggles who can do mind-over-matter pretty well, but usually just for themselves. That's how you get people who are firewalkers and sleeping on beds of nails and things. Doing it for someone else is unheard of, as far as I know. He's going to be here for a fortnight. Perhaps we can come after your birthday and you can bring your wand."
"Why bring my wand?"
"There's a spell I want you to cast in the tent after the show is over," he said, remembering Angelina casting the Revelatio spell in the auditorium of the British Library after Hermione broke her cello. He could ask Mrs. Figg about any complexities he should know about before performing it. Maybe she had a book about it.
"A spell for detecting recent magical signatures, either wand magic or wandless magic. Then we'll know if this Rodney Jeffries is a Muggle or a wizard cashing in on doing magic tricks for crowds of people. What does the Ministry think about that sort of thing? I can't imagine they'd condone it, or it would be a huge problem, if there were a slew of witches and wizards trying to make a living that way."
Draco didn't answer; Dunkirk was pulling him forward and he seemed like he was straining to keep up again. Harry was hardly breaking a sweat. He shook his head, laughing silently as he easily passed them both.
When they finally reached the Dursley house Draco collapsed on the lawn, red-faced. Harry took the Sneak-O-Scope out of his pocket. It was humming a tiny bit, but not loudly, and he put it away again.
After he'd showered and dressed for work, Harry returned to the kitchen to eat breakfast. His aunt was pouring tea for his uncle, who was reading the morning paper. When he said good morning all he received was a grunt from his uncle, but his aunt was downright friendly, which was unnerving.
"So!" she said as she sat down to her own breakfast, positively glowing. "How did Dunkirk like his exercise?"
Harry took a sip of orange juice and a piece of toast from the rack. "I reckon he liked it fine," he said while opening the marmalade.
"That young man staying with Mrs. Figg seems very well-bred," she said, sipping her tea daintily and turning rather pink again. Her husband remained buried behind his paper.
"Eh?" he said from its inky depths. She put her cup on the saucer with an exasperated clatter.
"Never mind," she practically snapped. Harry rolled his eyes. Good grief. Just what I need before I leave Privet Drive—Aunt Petunia having a mid-life crisis. Brilliant.
Suddenly there was a banging against the kitchen window and a frantic beating of wings. Without looking, Harry recognized the sound of a post-owl trying to get to him. He dashed to the door and opened it, which was easier than the window, and the owl quickly worked it out and flew round. It landed on Harry's shoulder and he took the large creamy parchment envelope from its beak. As it flew off again, Harry turned it over, seeing the green ink and the Hogwarts seal he had been expecting. Uncle Vernon, quivering, had put his newspaper over his head, and his Aunt was clutching Dunkirk to her chest while the little dog whined piteously. Their eyes were very round. Harry thought of the eagle owls that used to deliver Draco Malfoy's sweets packages, and the ominous falcons Lucius Malfoy had employed to deliver the Death Eater recruitment letters. Dunkirk would probably have been considered a tasty snack by the large birds. Trying not to smirk, he sat, ignoring their predictable owl-terror, breaking the purple wax seal and taking his letter out of the envelope. He read it over quickly, not taking much note of the names of the new prefects (he didn't know many people in that year) but afterward he looked up, grinning at his aunt and uncle, saying, "It's official."
They had gone back to eating their breakfasts and ignoring him.
"I said it's official," he repeated, loudly and clearly.
His aunt glanced up from her plate, muttering, "Are you still here?" Her eyes went back down again.
Harry frowned. They knew he had a letter from Hogwarts, and they were being more beastly than usual. They wouldn't care, he knew, but he had to say it anyway.
"I'm Head Boy."
There, he'd said it. And as per usual, when he said anything concerning Hogwarts, they behaved as if he didn't exist, sometimes going so far as to say things like, Petunia, dumpling, do you hear the wind blowing? Rather blustery and pointless, don't you think? while she simpered and responded, Yes, Vernon, utterly windy and useless.
Of course, they'd spent the last fifteen-and-a-half years trying to forget he existed at all, so their present behavior was hardly surprising. He'd known since the last prefects' meeting of the year that all of the other prefects had voted unanimously for him to be Head Boy and Hermione to be Head Girl, but seeing it on paper made it more real. It meant the teachers hadn't overridden the choice of the other prefects (not that that would be likely—in Harry's limited experience the teachers generally rubber-stamped the students' choices). He could tell Aberforth and Sam, anyway. That would be something. He could even tell Nigel and Trevor, although of course, they would think he was Head Boy at a public school, having no idea he was a wizard.
"Well," he said, carrying his plate and glass to the sink, giving up on their taking notice of his Head Boy announcement. "I'm off. Dick's picking me up at Mrs. Figg's. Draco's working for him too—you know, as a lark," he added, keeping up Draco's son-of-the-lord-of-the-manor act for no particular reason except it would be too complicated to reveal the truth to them. "He doesn't need the money, like I do," he added, having succeeded for six years in keeping the secret of his gold-filled Gringotts vault. He wasn't about to let on to them that he had a rather large inheritance, mostly in solid-gold coins. He didn't think they cared how he'd afforded school for the previous six years; maybe they thought Hogwarts had taken him on as a charity case. He also knew they'd sooner stand in the middle of Trafalgar Square extolling the virtues of James and Lily Potter before they'd admit to being curious about this, if they were.
Now that he wasn't talking about Hogwarts, he suddenly existed again—for a purpose. Vernon put his paper down. "Don't think you're going to go upstairs and be a layabout as soon as you're home. I'm bringing the supplies and tools for the roof job today. You can start after dinner. Plenty of daylight to work. First thing is to take off the old roof. And don't forget—after that you walk the dog again."
Harry stopped at the door. "I hope you're bringing home a rather large ladder, because the one in the potting shed isn't nearly long enough. Unless you'd like me to use my broom to fly to the roof," he added mischievously, slipping in a magic reference. His aunt and uncle both winced.
"Of course not! Don't be daft! Of course I'll bring a ladder. What do you take me for?"
Before he gave in to temptation and answered that question, he left, wondering whether he should suggest that he fly under his own power, as a golden griffin, but they didn't know he could do this and he wasn't anxious to tell them. He walked to Mrs. Figg's house, whistling. Aberforth, appearing again like his Muggle persona of Dick Abernathy, sat in his car with Draco beside him, waiting for Harry. After Aberforth started the car it was only a matter of minutes before they were on the motorway heading toward the estate where they would work for the next few weeks.
"Morning, Aber—um, Dick. I thought Sam was driving."
"Good morning, Harry! Change of plans. I had a few things to discuss with Arabella. I understand you've had an exciting day already?"
"Rather too exciting." He nodded at Draco. "So you've told him everything?"
"He has," Aberforth answered. "Arabella's going to London to see about the fellow pretending to be your milkman. And Sirius is going to find out where the Nelsons have gone on their holiday. We want to make certain there's been no foul play. It's possible someone simply gave them an offer they couldn't refuse." Harry was horrified, having seen too many American police procedurals concerning the Mafia. Aberforth could see his expression in the mirror, so he hastened to add, "I mean they might have been given the trip unexpectedly, like a prize in a contest they didn't know they'd entered. We don't necessarily have to assume they've been hurt. We'll try to track them down."
Harry nodded. He sat back, suddenly quite tired; it was hard to believe he had a day of work ahead of him when it already felt like he'd been through a week of mayhem. Between the intruder at the Nelsons' and the information that Dumbledore had arranged years ago for Muggle alarm systems to be in all of his neighbors' houses to the information that the marquee in the park was for the traveling show featuring Rodney Jeffries, who might or might not be a wizard…
He mentioned Jeffries to Aberforth, who frowned and said, "Who? Never heard of him. I don't read the papers much. Mostly gardening journals and catalogues. There are some nice gardening programs on the Muggle radio, too. And, of course, I haven't read the Daily Prophet for years. I suppose I'm rather out of the loop of both Muggle and wizarding news. Ask me about rose hybrids, though, and that's another story."
"No thanks," Draco said with feeling. Harry knew he was just working for the money, not really being the son-of-the-lord-of-the-manor anymore. He couldn't care less about learning anything during the summer. Harry frowned. He wished he felt he could count on the Draco Malfoy in this life the same way he'd counted on the Draco in his other life, but he felt that was a bad idea. He put his hand in his pocket; the Sneak-O-Scope was still humming softly…
When they arrived at the estate, Harry was glad to see Sam Bell again, and Nigel and Trevor as well. They were unloading shrubbery with burlap-wrapped roots from the truck, already working up a sweat. Harry noticed a fourth person with them wearing cut-off jeans, a large, loose blue shirt, and a cap with a bill turned round to the back. When this person turned around Harry could have fallen over in shock.
She smiled and gave him a hug. "Hello, Harry!" she said, grinning. Her blue shirt was unbuttoned in front, revealing a rather tight white T-shirt. She took off her cap and wiped her brow, and Harry saw that she had her short reddish-brown hair pulled back into a small ponytail that hadn't been visible when the cap had been on backwards.
"What are you doing here?"
She reached up and patted Sam on the back. "Thought I'd spend some time with my old dad before deciding what I want to be when I grow up," she answered, grinning. Harry noticed that Trevor and Nigel were giving Katie appreciative looks, which earned them a withering glare from Sam. This is going to be interesting. Draco Malfoy was staring at Katie as if he'd never seen her before either.
"Hello there," he said, giving her a lopsided smile. Harry frowned. All right, he thought, how many times a day am I going to have to remind him that Ginny is his girlfriend? He'd thought it would be nice if Draco were more like the friend he'd had for years in his other life, but he didn't want him to be like this, like the Don-Juan-of-Hogwarts, which was why he'd been so nervous about Jamie becoming his girlfriend.
But Katie was a clever girl, he remembered, and she proved it now. "So—how's Ginny?" she asked Draco brightly, giving Harry a merry sidelong glance. Harry resisted the urge to laugh. Unlike the American girl, Grace, Draco was now dealing with someone who knew Ginny was his girlfriend, who had lived in the same house, was at prefects' meetings with the pair of them and played on the same Quidditch team as Ginny.
Draco shook himself. "Who?" he said. Harry put his elbow in his ribs. "Ginny's grand, thanks," he recovered, tearing his eyes away from Katie's legs and focusing on her face. He rubbed his ribs and glared at Harry, who was exchanging a knowing look with Katie again. They got to work moving the shrubbery, laying it out according to the plan Aberforth had placed on the bonnet of his car, the corners held down with small stones. Harry found that Katie was a no-nonsense worker, much as she had been when playing Quidditch. She wore heavy tan workboots like the others and though she sometimes showed some strain when lifting something heavy, she never complained.
The next step was digging the holes for all of the new plants, and she was a little slower than the others, but Harry remembered he'd been the same way when he started. It wasn't because she was a girl—woman, he reminded himself—it was just that she wasn't used to the work. As the day went on, Harry was able to see her at close range, which he never really did at Hogwarts, and he noted the physical resemblance to her father, including the way she would raise her right eyebrow when she seemed like she wanted to make an acid remark about something and was restraining herself.
Aberforth had Harry and Katie working together while Sam worked with Nigel and Draco with Trevor. This seemed deliberate to Harry. While they were eating lunch, Sam admitted this to him. Katie had gone to the large manor house with Aberforth to put some rubbish in the dust bins, and Sam leaned in to Harry, saying, "I'm glad you're here, Harry. During the Easter holiday Kate started working with us, and I thought I was going to have to lay out one or both of my mates," he said, jerking his head at Nigel and Trevor. "Couldn't keep their eyes in their heads."
Harry smiled. "The hazards of having a pretty daughter, I reckon."
Sam nodded and also smiled, admitting this. "I know. But those two are a bit old for her, in my opinion. Plus," and he dropped his voice further, "they don't know I'm a wizard and she's a witch. Once, years ago, Nige saw Dick do—something—which would have given him away, but a quick memory charm took care of that, and he's been more careful since then."
Katie walked back toward them with Aberforth and Harry felt his spirits lift, watching her. She was one of the girls who had been placed under Imperius by Lucius Malfoy, and though she had asked him to dance at the Christmas party she'd thrown at her great-aunt's house in Hogsmeade, she'd been smitten with Lee Jordan at the time and as a result she was somewhat more resistant to the curse's influence than the other girls had been. He remembered the previous Christmas, Lee's family trying to play matchmaker for him when they'd all been at Hog's End for the holiday. Katie had seemed a bit cut off from the Quidditch crowd after their breakup the previous year, he recalled. Lee and the twins were still inseparable, and that meant Angelina too, plus Alicia was working in the village and saw her old crowd quite a lot. But Katie was in school, finishing her seventh year. Harry realized that during the previous few terms he'd seen her for the first time spending free periods with the others in her year. From the time in second year when she'd started playing Quidditch until her sixth year, her companions were usually her fellow Quidditch players. Sometimes that happened; a large group of friends would start to pair off, and when a couple broke up, one of the pair would suddenly be on the outside looking in, no longer part of the group. His heart went out to her, wondering not for the first time what would happen between him and Ron and Hermione, whether they'd be able to get their old comfortable friendship back after all that had happened.
When Katie was near him again, though, he smiled at her and they went back to work. A few minutes later, Harry happened to look up and see Sam's face, it definitely seemed Sam was smiling on the two of them. Is he trying to be a matchmaker? If so, he wasn't sure he minded. Katie was nice and uncomplicated. He could do worse than go on a few dates with Katie, possibly feel a little like a normal teenage boy for once.
When he was lying on the lawn sunning himself after lunch, he thought he caught Katie looking at him once, and lay back again, fighting a smile breaking out on his face. He glanced at Draco Malfoy, lying nearby with his shirt off too, but she wasn't looking at him. Harry did a double-take. Draco wasn't wearing the basilisk amulet. Harry lay back again and closed his eyes. What did he do with the pair of amulets?
When Aberforth was driving him and Draco home, Harry felt like every bone in his body ached, his muscles unused to the hard work again. He knew that would go away, but the first day was always rather hard on him. And now he had to rip off a roof. When he mentioned this in passing to Aberforth, the old man turned to Draco and said, "We'll help you out, won't we Draco? And I'll call the lads—they'll be happy to pitch in."
"No—wait—I didn't mean—" Harry tried to say, embarrassed that Aberforth might think he was fishing for help when he was merely grousing about his uncle taking advantage of him. But by the time Aberforth had put away his mobile it was too late. Only a few minutes after they arrived at number four, Privet Drive, Sam and Katie pulled up in Sam's old Volkswagen and Nigel and Trevor parked behind them in an ancient van which had a ghost of "Williams Plumbing and Heating" on the side in faded white lettering. Harry couldn't help a smile creeping across his face. He couldn't quite believe that after the long workday, they were willing to help him, all because his uncle was the cheapest person on the planet.
Uncle Vernon had already set up the ladder against the side of the house. Nigel climbed up and happened to have his face at the bathroom window when Harry's aunt was evidently using the commode, and her scream almost sent Nigel tumbling to the ground. This brought Vernon out the back door, screaming in turn at Nigel.
"What the hell do you think you're about, peeping at my wife while she's doing private things in the privacy of her privvy? Never hear of privacy? And who the devil are you lot?"
Aberforth walked up to Vernon Dursley and held out his hand. "Ah! Mr. Dursley. How nice to see you again," he said, as if Harry's uncle hadn't just been yelling at them crossly. He shook his hand while Uncle Vernon frowned at Aberforth, as if mystified about why he should know this person. Aberforth saw this. "Dick. Dick Abernathy. Abernathy Landscaping."
"Oh!" Harry's uncle responded, finally remembering. "Right, right."
"Harry's told us about your little roofing problem. Seems there's a leak over Harry's bed, yeah? We told him we'd pitch in. We don't mind, do we, lads?"
They answered with a chorus of nahs as they moved about, fetching the various tools needed for ripping off the old roof. Harry smiled at Katie; she didn't seem to mind being lumped in with "the lads." Her hat was on backwards again and her blue shirt was buttoned, which hid her body almost as effectively as a Hogwarts robe; it was possible Vernon hadn't even noticed that she was female.
Harry's uncle seemed like he would have liked nothing better than to require Harry to do the job alone, but in that Harry had no experience, he also seemed like he hoped this would mean someone who knew what they were doing retiling his roof. Free of charge. Which was Vernon's favorite price for anything. So he held his tongue and started to go into the house.
"Oh, and guv," Trevor called to him, "We'll need a coupla stouts each fer when we're done. It's tirsty work, yeah? Tanks," he called, turning back to his work. Harry wondered what Vernon would do on hearing that, and to his surprise, he returned to his car and drove away. Is he actually going to buy the stout?
He didn't have long to wonder, however, for soon he was on the roof with the others, using a crowbar to rip out the nails holding on the old tiles. Harry shook his head over his good fortune as he worked. He worried for Katie sometimes, but she walked about on the roof calmly, not in the least afraid of heights, and he remembered some of the daredevil things she would do while playing Chaser and stopped worrying. As long as she wasn't nervous, he wouldn't worry about it.
Vernon pulled up in the car again with the stout just as they were all climbing to the ground, the sun disappearing behind the low skyline of the village houses and the church where Dudley's funeral had been held. Vernon looked at the roof, nodded to them all, and went into the house without a word.
Nigel and Trevor took their bottles and waved, getting into their van and driving off, and the others moved to leave as well. Draco reached for a bottle of stout, but Aberforth got there first, taking it out of his reach, his eyebrows raised. Harry bade them all goodnight and went into the house, ready for a hot shower and some food before taking Dunkirk out for his evening constitutional. He didn't care what anyone said; independence was all very well, but good friends were priceless.
Over the next few days the pattern was repeated; work all day, work on the roof as a team until it was too dark to see. It seemed ironic to Harry that they spent all day on the ground (sometimes literally in the ground) planting green things, and spent the evening in the air, far from the earth. Trevor had attached a small evergreen bough he'd brought from their landscaping job and nailed it to the front gable of the house. When Vernon Dursley had demanded to know why this was, Trevor told him, "We're not building a new roof, strictly speakin', but it never 'urts to do that. Appease the spirits of the wood. A little sympathetic magic. Me dad was a carpenter, always did that when he put on a new roof." He thought his uncle was going to explode when he heard the word "magic"; Harry ducked behind Sam, just in case.
Though the roof wasn't done, on Thursday Aberforth informed Vernon that none of them would be working on the roof Friday night. "End of the week, see? The lads want a night out, yeah?" Vernon nodded, handing him a bottle of stout, which Aberforth didn't drink, but tucked into the boot of the car. Harry understood that this made sense, but he was a little depressed at the thought of working on the roof by himself the next evening.
Sam put his arm around Harry's shoulder, saying, "And Harry has a date with Kate, so he can't work on it either," he said to Vernon Dursley, who opened his eyes wide, turning to stare at Katie Bell. By now he was aware that Katie was "one of the lads" and also Sam's daughter.
"You're going to let him go out with your daughter?" he said incredulously, pointing at Harry and wearing the sort of expression he bore when anyone suggested he might someday vote for a member of the Labour Party.
"Certainly. Harry's a fine young man," he said, patting Harry on the back rather hard, almost making his glasses fly off. Harry pushed the frames up his nose and resisted the urge to wince. When Vernon was out of range, he turned to the older man.
"That was just to get him off your back, so you're not up there working alone tomorrow. But as long as we're throwing it around as an idea, why not? You two don't want to hang about in a pub with a bunch of old men, do you? You're young. Go out. See a film. Have a nice dinner. Do something other than work for once."
Harry and Katie looked at each other uncertainly. Even if they had felt compelled to pursue each other during the summer, as their work situation offered ample opportunity for them to get to know each other better, it felt strange for her father to be engineering everything.
"Er—" Harry said. She shrugged.
"Want to go to London?" she asked, no-nonsense. He nodded, eyeing Sam out of the corner of his eye.
Sam pulled both of them into a hug. "My daughter's going out with Harry Potter!" he declared before letting them go, walking to his car and shaking his head in wonder. Harry and Katie looked after him, each bright red.
"Sorry about that," she mumbled. Harry tried to smile reassuringly.
"Don't worry about it. But—this does feel a little—"
"—awkward?" He nodded. "And weird? And—"
"—I mean, we've known each other for—"
"—six years. And we've just been—"
"—friends. Acquaintances, really."
They stood looking at each other uneasily.
"Well," Katie said finally, "we'll go out as friends. A night off. And—and we can get to know each other better. The question is—how do we keep Dad from getting his hopes up? I mean, I feel rather stupid saying this, but—I'm not really over Lee. I know I'm an idiot, that it's been over six months—"
Harry put his hand on her arm. "You're not an idiot. At least you had a relationship with Lee. I've been obsessing over a girl I wasn't even—" he started to say before clamping his mouth shut.
"What? I thought—I thought you and Hermione—"
Harry grimaced. "I should have ended it with her months and months ago. I've been focused on someone else for a long time. Trouble is, she's got a boyfriend and there's absolutely no hope, but I can't seem to stop thinking about her anyway."
Katie sighed. "We're pathetic, in other words, both of us. I reckon there's nothing for it but to go out tomorrow and commiserate with each other." She smiled at him. "I've half a mind to make Dad thinks things are getting serious between us very fast, to teach him a lesson about matchmaking."
"Oh, no you don't," Harry said quickly, stepping away from her. "I have to work with your dad every day. I don't want him trying to kill me. We'll go out as friends and let him know in no uncertain terms that that's how it is."
Katie smiled. "I didn't know you couldn't take a joke, Harry. Then again, perhaps I spent too much time with the twins over the years."
Harry laughed as she said goodbye. After work the following day, Sam got into Aberforth's car instead of Harry, while Katie drove Harry to Privet Drive so he could shower and change. When he emerged from the house in clean beige trousers and a crisp white shirt open at the neck, smelling of soap, she smiled at him.
"You clean up nicely, Mr. Potter."
He smiled back at her, wondering whether they would really be going out as "just friends." It didn't take them long to reach her father's flat, on the outskirts of London, and he waited in the lounge while she did her showering and dressing. He flipped through television channels aimlessly before he heard something familiar. Going back to the channel he'd just been on, he heard a news announcer saying:
"That's all from Little Whinging, Surrey, where Rodney Jeffries has evidently again performed what could only be called a miracle. There will be another opportunity to hear Mr. Jeffries speak this evening at seven o'clock. Don't miss it!"
Standing beside the perky young dark-haired woman who'd been speaking was a handsome man who appeared to be in his late twenties. He had curling brown hair, blue eyes, a deep tan and a dazzling smile. The American girl, Grace, stood nearby, awed and amazed by her luck, and an elderly man was standing beside a wheelchair, which appeared to belong to him, except for the fact that he no longer seemed to need it. An advert began and Harry turned off the television before the jingle the dancing tin of fruit was singing became embedded in his brain for a month.
Soon after, Katie emerged from the corridor leading to the bedrooms and bathroom, fresh as a daisy. She wore her soft brown hair on her shoulders instead of pulled back, as she did at work. Her hazel eyes shone in her work-tanned face and she wore a pink shirtdress buttoning down the front with simple strappy sandals matching her handbag.
"We should be off! The film starts at nine, so we have time to have a meal first." Harry started to walk to the door, but Katie seemed to be moving away from it. "Where are you going, Harry?"
He frowned. "Where are you going?"
"To the fireplace. It's faster if we Floo to the Leaky Cauldron and take the Tube to the cinema. I don't want to drive the car into London proper. I'll take you home again, don't worry."
"I didn't realize—I'm not used to being able to Floo whenever I like."
She smiled. "Dad had the flat added to the Network when he found out I was staying the summer. He doesn't normally like the idea of just anyone being able to come into his place. He's got anti-Apparition wards on the flat as well."
Harry shrugged. "I reckon he has as much reason as anyone not to want contact with the wizarding world."
Katie looked down and away. "So you know about all that, do you?"
Harry nodded. "He told me and Draco about it last year. I'm—I'm so sorry about your mum, Katie."
She nodded, brisk once more. "We should be going."
They stepped into the fireplace one at a time and soon Harry found himself in the Leaky Cauldron on a Friday night. It was full of wizards drinking at the bar, running poor old Tom ragged. Harry winced at the noise.
"We can eat in one of the dining rooms," Katie hollered above the racket, and Harry nodded, following her down the corridor. They entered a small dining room where two other tables were already occupied. They looked up casually when Harry and Katie entered before doing a double-take upon seeing the scar on his forehead, their heads swiveling as they followed Harry's and Katie's progress across the room to the table of their choice. Harry felt himself redden. He hoped no press were present, so this wouldn't wind up in the Daily Prophet or Witch Weekly. He wasn't even seventeen.
They sat and Harry turned to glare back at the rubberneckers, who promptly pretended to have been staring at the very interesting wallpaper on the wall behind Harry's head. He and Katie picked up their menus, stifling their laughter, and when they both decided upon roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, they placed their orders with their plates, which soon after produced the food. Harry couldn't help noticing that Katie had a healthy appetite. She'd been working as hard as he had all week. And yet her hands were pretty and dainty and clean as they grasped her knife and fork, and he smiled when he noticed the scattered freckles the sun had brought out on her nose. She met his eye.
"Were you staring at me, Harry Potter?" she said in that straightforward way she had. He decided not to be defensive.
"Yes, Kathryn Bell, I was. Is that a problem?"
She couldn't keep up the imperious act. She blushed and went back to cutting her meat. "No," she mumbled. "It isn't."
Harry smiled. Barring the stares from the other diners, he felt so—so normal. He was out on a Friday night with a pretty girl, having a nice dinner, planning to go to the cinema. He felt a bit like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
After their meal they had tea and ice cream. There was time before the film began. "So," he said to her, "you still don't know what you want to do for a living?"
She sighed and shook her head. "No idea. I was thinking of training to be an Auror for a while, like Dad, but he didn't like the idea. He said I'm too young."
"My mum trained to be an Auror right out of school. Your dad worked with her."
She nodded. "I know," she said softly.
They were quiet for a while. At last Harry said, "It's okay, you know. To mention my parents. I am capable of talking about them. Do you—do you dislike talking about your mother?"
She was startled. "Wouldn't you be if your mum did something awful and because your dad was trying to stop her he had to give up ten years of his life? I had to give him up too—and her. I'll never get those years back. I went through my childhood with no parents, and it shouldn't have happened. I know I shouldn't be complaining about this to you, of all people, Harry, but it seems dreadfully unfair…"
Harry put his hand over hers on the table. "Of course it's unfair. And just because I was orphaned, it doesn't make what happened to you and your family all right. Why can't you feel resentful about all that? If anyone has a perfect right, you do. But—remember. Your mum was under Imperius. She didn't want—" His voice caught; he thought of his own mother, her wand pointing at Ron Weasley. "She didn't want to hurt you." He had to stop talking; his throat felt tight.
Katie nodded. "I know," she said softly, swiping at a single tear with an irritated expression. "It shouldn't be paralyzing me, it shouldn't be. But I keep thinking this is a decision which will affect the rest of my life, it shouldn't be made lightly."
"What about Quidditch? You were always a good Chaser."
She grimaced. "Not good enough. If I tried out for the worst team in the league, they'd laugh me off the pitch. Quidditch just never mattered enough to me. I enjoyed it and I wasn't bad for a student player, but I couldn't see doing it for a living. I mean, I'm certainly no James Potter when it comes to Chasing—"
"Don't be silly. You were a part of our winning the Quidditch Cup as much as anyone else."
"Your dad didn't just win the Hogwarts Quidditch Cup." She looked at him shrewdly. "You—do you mean you don't know?"
Harry looked around before meeting her eyes again. "Know what?"
She smiled slyly. "I'll show you on the way out."
They paid their bill at the bar and made their way toward the door leading to Muggle London. Before they got there, however, Katie steered him to the wall where the pictures of various English Quidditch teams hung. She pointed at one labeled 1978. "They went to the World Cup, and should have won, but the Seeker had an injury and they had to go with a reserve. They had a brilliant young Chaser that year, fresh out of Hogwarts." He frowned at her merry smile before leaning in and examining the photograph.
In the middle of the back row was his father, James Potter.
He had played Quidditch for England.
"It was apparently all over the sports pages of the Daily Prophet that James Potter was going to help England win the World Cup. When they didn't, everyone started talking about eighty-two, except—"
"—except my dad was killed in October of eighty-one," he said softly, watching the tall young man with the messy hair and glasses smile from the back row, jostling good-naturedly with his teammates. Katie nodded.
"He wasn't an unemployed bum," he said suddenly, fiercely, to the photograph, remembering Vernon's sister Marge.
"What?" Katie was very confused.
"Nothing. It's just—thanks. Thanks for showing me."
She shrugged. "I can't believe you didn't know. I think everyone just assumed you did." Harry remembered the way Hermione had stopped and stared at one of the Quidditch photographs when he'd brought her to the Leaky Cauldron after telling her she was a witch. He'd thought she was just amazed by the people moving in the photographs; what must have caught her eye was the image of the young man who bore such a striking resemblance to Harry.
They went to the cinema and sat in the dark together while adverts played for other films and for the sweets and other food available in the lobby. Harry draped his hand casually on the back of her chair as they watched. When the film began one of the first things they saw was a young woman walking nude across the screen, far larger than life, while her boyfriend lay in bed, evidently used to seeing her parade around like this. Harry turned to glance at Katie surreptitiously, but she gazed at the screen, the flickering light reflecting eerily on her skin.
As the film went on, his hand had shifted to her shoulder and somehow her head came to be resting on his shoulder. Cars collided, people shot one another and the naked young woman walked around her flat sensuously, sometimes partially clothed, sometimes not, usually ready to jump into bed with her boyfriend at a moment's notice.
Harry was having trouble remembering who was with the police and who was with the criminals. The American accents and slang were sometimes a little confusing. And the young woman would walk across the screen again with nothing on, distracting him…
He looked at Katie after one of these times and found her looking at him. It seemed perfectly natural to lean down and brush his lips again hers. He felt an equal pressure from her. That's all they did; their mouths parted and they continued watching the film, which evidently required a large portion of Los Angeles to be blown up or burned and a number of people to be shot or stabbed.
Harry was growing tired of the film, and when a huge yawn overwhelmed him, Katie whispered to him, "We can go if you like."
"Are you sure?"
She nodded. "This is getting pretty tedious." So they crept from the dark auditorium, trying not to block anyone else's view, (some people complained anyway) and soon they were back in the Leaky Cauldron stepping into the fireplace. When they emerged in Sam and Katie's flat, they found him sitting in a chair reading a book, enjoying a cup of tea and a cigarette.
"Hullo! You're back early. Everything all right?"
"Fine. We're both knackered from working all day," Katie told him, kissing him on the forehead. "I'm going to drive Harry home. Shouldn't be long."
"Are you sure?"
Katie rolled her eyes at her matchmaking father. "Quite."
"Uh—goodnight, Sam," Harry said awkwardly, unprepared for how uncomfortable he felt about taking his friend's daughter on a date.
When they were in the corridor, Katie slumped against the door. "Sorry about that, Harry. He's just—"
"A father whose daughter is on a date with Harry Potter. I know, I know," he answered, smiling. She grinned.
"You'd think by now he'd realize you're a regular person," she said, shaking her head. He was very tired, but he couldn't help thinking how pretty she was as her gleaming hair swung around her face, and he suddenly touched her lips with his. She was caught unawares, but after a moment she relaxed and let her mouth drop open a little, running her hands up to clasp his neck. Harry was pleasantly surprised as the kiss deepened, and he found himself reminded of something—kissing Hermione by her car in Godric's Hollow. That had been a nice kiss, like this one. Something about being with Katie felt familiar, safe. And yet, something was also very wrong…
He separated from her, pressing his lips to her forehead. "I'm sorry, Katie. I reckon I thought—"
"You thought you could make yourself forget the other girl?" He nodded, ashamed. "It's all right, Harry. Do you mind—do you mind if I ask you if it's Ginny Weasley?"
His jaw dropped. "How'd you know?"
She laughed. "You said it isn't Hermione, so I thought about other girls in Gryffindor—since that seemed most obvious—and Ginny's the only logical choice. I don't know why I didn't see it before."
Harry was the one to lean against the door now. "Yeah, well, she's with Malfoy. I mean—Draco. There's no hope for me."
Katie frowned. "No hope at all? She's said so?"
"As good as. She wants to be with him. I have to get over her. It's just—"
They were both silent for a minute. Finally, Katie laced her fingers through his and said quietly, "Let's go."
They didn't speak in the car. Harry stared out at the night, the houses and other buildings passing by. When they'd reached Little Whinging and were going by the park, Harry saw the large white marquee, appearing dark and empty. The second show of the evening must be over, he thought. Something else occurred to him.
"Katie," he said suddenly, "do you have your wand with you?"
"In my handbag. Why?"
"Can you drive back to the park? There's something I want to find out about."
She used a private drive to turn the car around and soon they were back at the park. They climbed out of the car and Harry started walking purposefully across the grass. Katie followed him. He stopped outside the cloth building.
"What's all this about, Harry?"
"Can I—can I use your wand? Please? It's not bad, honestly. And I'll be seventeen in a few weeks. I just need to know—something."
She frowned, taking her wand from her purse and handing it to him. The entrance to the marquee was zipped shut; he opened it carefully, wincing at the noise the plastic zipper made as it moved. He stepped into the tent and she started to follow, but he said, "You'd better stay out there, keep watch, say something if someone comes along, yeah?"
"I thought you said you weren't doing anything bad!" she hissed.
"I'm not. I'm finding out whether anyone else is doing something bad."
"That isn't the least bit dangerous," she answered sarcastically. "I'm starting to feel like I might as well be hanging out with the twins." But she stood outside the marquee, looking about nervously, while Harry entered the huge space with its army of folding chairs divided neatly by an aisle. He had been reading about this for a couple of evenings, using books he'd borrowed from Mrs. Figg, and he felt ready to try it. The worst that could happen was it not working. Of course, it would be hard to tell apart from there simply being no hidden information to reveal, so he wasn't sure what he'd do if it merely seemed that it hadn't worked.
Harry took a deep breath and closed his eyes, thinking about the way he felt when he was young and would do magical things accidentally, the tingling he felt all over his scalp. He opened his eyes and brandished the wand, continuing to focus on this memory, saying, "Revelatio!"
The spell worked instantly. Harry gasped. The previously-dark tent was suddenly aglow with ghostly pink figures. They were people, hundreds of different, distinct human beings. Harry turned to the left and to the right. Everywhere, the tent vibrated and pulsed with the beautiful, shimmering and unmistakable afterglow of—magic.
For all of the juicy Psychic Serpent Trilogy backstory, check out the prequel (on this site!) featuring the Marauders, Lily, Snape, the Weasleys, the Malfoys, and MORE!
The Lost Generation
Note: The quote at the beginning of the chapter is from page 173 of House, by Tracy Kidder (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1985). Kidder is also the author of The Soul of a New Machine and Among Schoolchildren. House is a wonderful non-fiction account of a house being built in New England in the early nineteen-eighties, from start to finish. It's a lovely book and I highly recommend it, as well as Kidder's other works.
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